Pets and bullying are two topics one would not think to put together, but the fact is, pets can help play a major role in reducing bullying amongst kids. Interaction with animals, ranging from dogs, cats, horses, and even lizards and goldfish, has been shown to have a positive therapeutic effect on adults that increases both happiness and healing. Helping children was the next logical step in exploring the benefits of interaction between pets and humans. So, how do pets assist when bullying rears its ugly head?
The therapeutic value of pets has long been known. Pets are used for therapy for a variety of conditions. They have also been found to bring comfort to people at the end-of-life. Wounded veterans and those suffering from PTSD have seen an easing of their symptoms related to pet therapy.
Programs that bring pets into prisons have reported improvements in the behavior of inmates exposed to the pets. They have a calming, relaxing effect on people because they release a hormone in the brain called oxytocin. This hormone is associated with feeling good and thinking positively. They relax people and make them feel more comfortable, and thus more willing to open up.
Pets and children
Children have a special relationship with pets. They are just learning about the world and they are often fascinated when they are responded to by a pet. It also gives them a sense of empowerment to care for another living being. This, in turn, manifests as compassion toward other people.
Children seem to make a transition from pets to other people more easily than children who don’t have pets. They also learn about social interaction from talking to and playing with a pet. They learn the basics of what is okay and not okay to do to other people. While at the same time having an unconditional companion they can talk to and tell secrets to.
Pets take over the school
As a result, schools all over the country have invited programs that bring therapeutic pets for the children to play with. The benefits to the kids who participate in these programs exhibited in significantly fewer disciplinary actions. They also demonstrated less aggressive activity from compared with kids that didn’t participate in these programs.
Grades also have been seen to improve, as discipline and responsibility are instilled from socializing with the pets. Teaching them tricks and playing with them, even for as little as an hour a week, have been shown to improve the children’s overall behavior. Furthermore, programs like this grant the benefit of bringing domesticated animals to children who don’t have pets at home, providing interactions they may not have elsewhere.
Bullying has been proven to lead to depression and a variety of other mental illnesses, but taking care of a pet can offset this very strongly. By giving a bullied child someone to bond with, pets can help ease the pain of being bullied by providing understanding, love, and support.
Pets, especially dogs and cats, are also sensitive to our emotions and tend to react accordingly. What better to have if being bullied than a compassionate friend that wants to make us happy? Children also talk to their pets. And this is a therapeutic way of coping with their emotions, which has the dual benefit of helping work out feelings and providing positive social interaction. This can prevent your child from being a bully!
Dogs teach diversity
Dogs come in all sizes and shapes: large and small, hairy, hairless, long-snouted, flat-faced, big, floppy ears, and tiny pointed ears, to name a few. No matter what, they are all dogs and can be related to the same way. It doesn’t matter if the dog is a Labrador, a terrier, a poodle, or a chihuahua, dogs are dogs and children accept this.
Learning to accept this trait about dogs can help children associate it with humans. Horses and cats come in different colors, but dogs come in different shapes. When children see friendly dogs of different breeds interacting with each other and themselves, they apply that to their own interactions.
The bottom line
Pets seem to have the infectious effect of making us happy because they evoke our compassion. This makes us feel good. There are many ways this can help children learn to interact with one another and adults. But they can be especially useful in teaching kids to interact without being aggressive or violent toward one another.
Your pet gives back more to your family than is obvious, in the form of companionship, bonding, and unconditional love, all of which provide a strong shield against bullying.
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First published on 4/18/17, this post has been updated for republication.