According to the latest research, pet dogs help kids feel less stressed, and provide healthy social support when stress arises.
If you’re still on the fence whether adopting a dog is the right decision when you have kids at home, these new findings may have just tipped the scale. There is now yet another reason how raising kids around dogs improve their physical and mental well-being.
Researchers at the University of Florida have conducted a study which reveals that pet dogs are able to reduce and prevent stress in children. These researchers were among the first to document the effects our canine companions have on children’s stress levels.
According to Dr. Darlene A. Kertes, PhD, the way we learn to cope with stress when we are young has lifelong consequences for us and how we cope with stress as adults. Until now, many people have believed dogs to be beneficial for emotional balance, but there has never been much in the way of scientific proof.
Details of the Study
Darlene Kertes and her team put to test the popular belief that our pet dogs can be a real source of social and emotional support. They used a randomized controlled study to provide this data. Randomized controlled trials (or RCTs) use randomly selected participants and generally give them one of three “treatments”: the intended treatment, a placebo, or no treatment at all. They are considered the gold standard of studies and trials.
This study, published in Social Development, recruited about 100 families with pets to collect the data. To impose (gentle) stress on the children, researchers had them complete public speaking and arithmetic tasks; these are known to create stress in kids, and raise the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This effectively simulated real-life stress that children experience in their day-to-day lives.
These children were then randomly assigned to experience the stressor under 3 circumstances: with their dog present for support, with their parent present for support, and with no support present.
Samples of saliva were collected before and after the stress was induced to measure the cortisol levels of each child. Children in the study were 7-12 years in age.
Of course, the children experienced the most stress when they had no support present.
But astoundingly, the research shows that kids experience lower levels of stress when they have their dogs around than when they have their parents around.
Interestingly, the results also showed that the children who solicited the dogs for interaction showed lower stress levels than the children who didn’t. Basically, if the child summoned the dog for support, it indicated a closer relationship with the animal. If the dog had to approach the child first, it indicated less of a relationship. The stress levels were more significantly lowered in children with close relationships to their pets than in children with more distant relationships to the pets.
This data is important to understanding the development of coping mechanisms in children. According to Kertes, kids who are of this age group (7-12years old) are in middle childhood; their coping skills are developing beyond reliance on their parents, but their emotional and biological coping methods are still maturing.
Understanding how to better buffer stress responses in developing children could lead to methods of giving kids the tools they need to have healthier coping mechanisms in place for the rest of their lives.
Apparently, that process gets a big kick start when that child has a pet dog.