By Lori Powell, LCSW, Courier & Press, September 26, 2017 –
I have always loved animals, especially cats. Throughout my professional life I have noticed that sharing photos of my cats and keeping small stuffed animals in my office has helped initiate and continue conversations with children and adults, helping me build trusting relationships.
As a result, when I began my employment at Vogel Elementary School as a Youth First Social Worker, I began to carry a stuffed animal with me to help children transition into school in the mornings. If I’m not at the door when children enter the area, some will ask, “Where is the lady with the cat?”
Some children smile and ask to pet the stuffed animal I’m carrying with me, which is usually a cat of various colors. As a result, I am not surprised by the following statement from Rose M. Barlow, of the Department of Psychology at Boise State University in Idaho: “Animals, (real or toys,) can help children and adults to experience and express emotions, a feeling of unconditional support, and grounding.”
According to the Academy of Anxiety and Depression, anxiety disorders affect 1 in 8 children. Rose Barlow also states that animals can help reduce anxiety, stress, and sadness that adults or children might be experiencing. There are many people that need help meeting their emotional needs to feel safe, loved, and appreciated.
I’ve listed five essential needs that pets can provide to adults and children:
- A constant companionship can be formed that teaches the individual how to provide unconditional love and affection appropriately.
- A structured schedule for waking up in the mornings, bedtimes, and meal times can be developed.
- A positive coping skill can be developed, because it is very difficult to play with a dog or cat without smiling or laughing.
- Self-esteem can be increased by allowing the child to feel comfortable in building friendships.
- Physical comfort can be obtained by touching, holding, and petting your animal.
When choosing a pet, please make sure they are friendly and want the extra attention a child will give. Otherwise, the essential needs of the individual and the pet will not be met. Also, it’s important to be thoughtful about the care and responsibility that any animal requires, including obtaining appropriate vaccinations for all pets in the home.
If you are unable to afford care for the animal and must return it to the original owner, this could create additional trauma for children and adults who have become attached to their new pet. But don’t give up on the possibility of animal-assisted therapy. There is always the option to use toy stuffed animals or visit the animals at the zoo to help children and adults reduce or alleviate feelings of stress, anxiety, and sadness.