It looks like "Peanuts" cartoonist Charles Schulz was right:
Happiness is a warm puppy. "Research has indicated that dog ownership
is a boon for adults' mental health, and now a new study says having
a dog as a pet may help curb anxiety in children," says
Wilfredo Alejo, MD, a board-certified pediatrician at
St. Jude Heritage Medical Group in Diamond Bar.
The study, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, looked
at more than 600 children--both with dogs in the home and without--and
studied their mental health, body mass index,exercise habits and amount
of screen time. While there wasn't a noticeable difference in most
categories between the two groups of children, the study did find a lower
risk for anxiety in children who had a dog.
"That's in line with what has been proven with adults -- that
pets, and most importantly dogs, can alleviate anxiety, boost mood, and
ease panic, post-traumatic stress and other mental health problems,"
Dr. Alejo says. "The new study says dog ownership could help children
in several ways, including boosting self esteem, reducing stress, providing
support, and serving as a companion and confidante. In addition, dogs
can help children build caretaking and nurturing skills,as well as give
them more confidence in communication and social interactions."
If you are a parent looking to add a dog to your household, Dr. Alejo offers
some suggestions on how to choose the right one:
- It's wonderful to adopt a shelter animal, but be sure to talk with
a staffer to find out the dog's history, if it's known. "Some
dogs may have been in abusive situations that would make them skittish
around lively, active children," Dr. Alejo says. "Also, research
which breeds are a good fit for children as well as for your family."
- Don't rule out older dogs. "Puppies are cute, but if you already
have a young child, you might not have time and energy to spend on training
a puppy," Dr. Alejo says. "Plus, younger dogs may be more rambunctious
and nip or bite or jump, which can all be scary for a child. An older
dog may be calmer and overall a better fit for children."
- Train your child as well as the dog. "Children should be shown how
to gently handle pets -- to not pull on tails or tug a dog's ears,
for instance" Dr. Alejo says. "Teach your child how to properly
behave around a dog, and stay in the room with both the dog and child
to make sure everyone stays safe."
- If you have older children, encourage them to take on the responsibility
of caring for the dog. "Feeding the dog, walking it around the block,
or playing with it at the park are all useful chores that can also help
grow the bond between the pet and your child," Dr. Alejo says.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.