Ask the Guidance Center Experts, December 6, 2022
In this monthly column, therapists from North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center answer your questions on issues related to parenting, mental health and children’s well-being. To submit a question, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Question: My son is begging my wife and me to get him a dog for the holidays. We both grew up having dogs in our homes and found it to be very rewarding. But we also know that it’s a lot of work and takes a big commitment to care for a pet – especially a dog! We are inclined to say yes, especially since the pandemic left him feeling pretty low, and we hope this will lift his spirits. Plus, he promises he’ll take on the bulk of the responsibility. What do you think we should do?
— Pet Parenting Puzzle
Dear Anxious Parents: You are wise to take this decision very seriously. Dogs, as well as other pets, do require a lot of care, and if you are lucky, they will be part of your family for many years to come.
You’re also right in realizing that pets can offer many mental health benefits for kids. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, developing loving feelings about pets can contribute to a child’s self-confidence. Positive relationships with pets can aid in the development of trusting relationships with others. And a good relationship with a pet can help in developing non-verbal communication, compassion and empathy.
Some other benefits: Having pets leads to an increase in physical activity; reduces stress; provides companionship and social support; and fosters a connection with the natural world.
Pets provide unconditional love, which is important for every child, but especially helpful for kids who are having difficulties with depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. In fact, research indicates that children with pets tend to have higher levels of self-worth compared to those who don’t have animals. They can also help children with issues such as shyness and autism with their social skills.
All kids, whether or not they have mental health challenges, benefit from their relationships with animals, but if you are considering bringing a pet into your family, here are some factors to consider:
- Kids will promise the moon and stars to get a pet, but as the adult, you are likely to be the one who does most of the caretaking, so make sure you are ready for the responsibility.
- Take finances into consideration. Caring for pets can be an expensive proposition, with estimates running from $500 to well over $1,000 each year.
- Do you have little ones in the house? Children under three or four need to be supervised with pets at all times, since they may be impulsive and risk harming the pet or themselves.
- When choosing a pet, do your research. The pet should be a good match for your lifestyle. For example, if you live in an apartment, you might want to avoid getting a highly active dog. But if you have a fenced-in yard and enjoy tossing the ball around, an energetic pup may be the right fit.
- Are you out of the house for a large part of the day? Pets require care and love, so if you and your family aren’t home most of the time, a dog or even a cat might not be the right pet for you.
- Do your kids have asthma or other allergies? Despite the hype, there really are no allergy-free cats or dogs—but there are some breeds that are less allergenic than others. Ask your vet for suggestions.
Adopting from a shelter is a great way to save the life of an animal. If you decide that you want a specific breed or your heart is set on the type of dog you had as a kid, consider a rescue or shelter pet. Either way, always make sure you speak with the shelter or breeder about the individual history and personality of your prospective pet. Everything is not always apparent when a fury creature is first introduced at a visit.
Whatever you decide, we wish you and your family a happy and healthy holiday!
North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, Long Island’s leading children’s mental health organization, is seeing clients both remotely via telehealth platforms and in person, depending on the clients’ needs. No one is ever turned away for inability to pay. To make an appointment, call 516-626-1971 or email email@example.com.