Pets – and animals in general – can be very therapeutic for children. Studies have shown how pets can help lower blood pressure, speed up recovery time, and reduce stress and anxiety. We see this with troubled children, Autistic children or children with Asperger Syndrome and PTSD — when they are with animals they can immediately relate because they sense the animals are unconditional in their love and affection. – Dr. Gail Gross
Most everyone knows that having a pet decreases stress. It also soothes and strengthens abused people, especially children, so that their trauma is lessened and made manageable. Pets are simply good for the human soul.
Dr. Gross in Wyoming
Dr. Gail Gross Ph.D., Ed.D., M.Ed., is a nationally recognized family and child development expert, author, and educator. Her positive and integrative approach to difficult issues helps families navigate today’s complex problems.
In her latest informative blog, she writes, “My very dear friend is a horse whisperer, who has helped many children with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) heal. One day while having lunch together, I asked her to explain to me why animals, and horses in particular, help children with PTSD recover. She explained to me that children of abuse and domestic violence, as well as children who have physical and emotional challenges, respond to horses (and other animals) because they intuitively recognize that they can trust them.”
Children who are emotionally injured and abused often face being emotionally and physically paralyzed and unable to express themselves. Dr. Gross writes, “These children are frozen, and yet, as they sit astride a big, powerful horse, they learn to trust once again, relax and surrender to the movement of their new ally. A horse neither judges nor criticizes, but loves unconditionally. And not only does he respond with nonverbal cues, such as sound, nuzzling, and picking up his ears, but he is also honest, and will not let your child get away with anything – no deception, no deceit.”
She adds, “When a horse carries your child, who feels small and powerless, his very movement relaxes your child and restores control through action. And when riding his horse, your child can find a safe place of unconditional acceptance and love with his best friend and therapist…his horse.”
The importance of human-animal bonds has been documented throughout history, across cultures, and in vast research. The domestication and socialization of animals into human enclaves has been a steady coevolution based on a shared need for shelter, food, and protection. According to known archeological evidence, over 14,000 years ago, domestic wolves, ancestors of the dog, lived in settlements with humans. We need them, and they need us.
Dr. Gross says, “Pets give unconditional love. They are non-judgmental, and, especially for only children, lonely children, or children who have sibling rivalry or emotional distress, a pet gives them someone to talk to. A pet can comfort, give support, and listen to a child’s troubles without judgment or consequence. And, when playing, a pet can become your child’s partner and best buddy.”
She also notes that pets can teach a child a proper way to channel frustrations and anger or fear on others. Pets can teach empathy, confidence and responsibility. “Animals can help socialize children and increase verbal skills. You’ve likely seen even little kids who are still learning to talk attempting to chatter away with pets. In this way, pets give not only social and emotional support but also cognitive language skill support to children. A pet’s simple presence provides verbal stimulus to help your child practice talking and socializing with another being.”
Dr. Gail Gross