For military children, a family pet can help smooth some of the ups-and-downs that come with life in the armed forces.
In addition to providing unconditional love and companionship, a dog or cat can help strengthen the physical and emotional health of her guardians, particularly children. Here are just a few ways Fido or Fluffy can be your child’s best friend, and so much more.
Good for the body
Living with a pet can strengthen a child’s immune system. Studies show that children growing up in homes with a furred pet are at lower risk for allergies and asthma.
A study by a University of Wisconsin-Madison pediatrician showed that infants in homes with pets have a lower incidence of pet allergies and eczema, an allergy-caused skin condition, than their pet-less peers.
Finnish researchers found that young children with dogs or cats suffered fewer ear conditions and were prescribed antibiotics less often than children who did not live with dogs or cats.
And Israeli researchers found that children who grow up with dogs in the household have lower blood pressure, even during times of stress.
Dogs can also help ward off childhood obesity. Children with pets spend about 10 minutes more per day on physical activity than children without pets.
While this amount of time might sound insignificant, the time over the course of a dog’s life or an entire childhood can add up. Moreover, while wearing activity monitors, children in this same study who have dogs engaged in more movements per minute than children without dogs.
Good for the mind
Dogs can motivate a child to read simply by being a silent, non-judgmental listener.
Researchers at Tufts University’s School of Veterinary Medicine found that second-graders who read aloud to a dog for 30 minutes a week during the summer showed a slight gain in their reading ability.
The comparison group, second-graders who read aloud to humans for 30 minutes a week, did not show such a gain.
And while there was no attrition in the group which read aloud to dogs, one-third of the comparison group dropped out of the summer reading program.
Good for the soul
Relocation is a fact of military life and may cause a child to feel socially isolated or lonely.
A family pet can provide comfort, support and stability during this difficult time. Research has found that children with pets feel less anxious and apprehensive about relocating than children without pets.
Many times, walking the dog or playing with the family pet outdoors can facilitate social introductions to others in a new neighborhood.
The family pet can help provide a sense of security when one parent must deploy as well. Pets can serve as a coping mechanism and important attachment figures for children during a parent’s deployment.
Psychologists have found that children in single-parent families feel more closely bonded to their pets than children with two parents present at all times.
Pets can provide life lessons, too.
Children learn about birth, injury, illness and death from the life cycle of a pet. In addition, kids develop a sense of responsibility by caring for a pet, and animals can connect children with nature and teach them to respect other living things.
Finally, a family pet can help build a child’s character to weather the everyday stress of military life.
According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, “[d]eveloping positive feelings about pets can contribute to a child’s self-esteem and self-confidence. Positive relationships with pets can aid in the development of trusting relationships with others. A good relationship with a pet can also help in developing non-verbal communication, compassion, and empathy… [P]ets can be safe recipients of secrets and private thoughts.”
Adopt, don’t shop, for your family pet
A family pet can serve as a child’s all-around best friend and so much more – an immunity booster, personal trainer, reading coach, science teacher, confidante and therapist, among them.
When your family is ready to add a four-legged member, adopt from your local shelter. You’ll be teaching your kids a lesson in life saving.