Dogs have helped the emotional and social development of children

A group of Australian researchers found out how the presence of a dog in the house affects the development of children. It turned out that their emotional state and social skills are much better than those of children growing up in families without pets.

It has long been known that regular physical activity contributes to the development of children. Its deficiency and, as a consequence, an increase in the incidence rate is a major public health problem. Early studies have already shown that children who have dogs in their families are more active (they move 29 minutes a week longer than their peers). Researchers from the University of Western Australia and the Telemedicine Institute for Children have suggested that you can not only increase your level of physical activity but raise it to the recommended norm (at least three hours a day) if you add a game or a walk with your pet to simple physical activity.

Scientists studied the results obtained in 2015-2018 in the framework of the PLAYCE program, which studies which features of preschool education, care, and atmosphere in the family contribute to the development of children aged two to five years. The authors took questionnaires received from 1646 families in which there are children from two to five years. They were based on the well-known questionnaire “Strengths and difficulties”, which is used to assess the behavior of children, and questions figuring out whether there is a dog in the family (there were 686 families with pets, about 42%) and how much time the child spends with her. The results were published in the journal Pediatric Research.

Hayley Christian, an employee at the School of Population and Global Health at the University of Western Australia and one of the authors of the study says: “We expected that having a dog in the family would provide some growth in the development of young children, but were surprised that the simple presence of the dog was associated with changes in behavior and the amount of positive emotions”.

When processing the results, various factors were taken into account: the age of the children, gender, day regimen, the time they spend in front of a TV screen, a computer monitor or with a phone, the level of education of parents. Researchers found that in families where there are pets, children were 23% less likely to have difficulty controlling their emotions and building social ties, 30% less likely to show aggression and antisocial behavior, and 40% less likely to have problems communicating with other children. It was also found that the degree of attachment of the child to the dog affects his ability to show social activity and empathy.

The authors believe that having a dog and interacting with it through play and walking can be important mechanisms to facilitate the social and emotional development of young children. But so far they have not been able to pinpoint why this is happening. In future studies, they are going to find out how the presence of different pets in the family affects the condition of the child.

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