Animals May Be the Answer to Our Children's Challenges: Guest Post by Ash Stevens

Medication, specialists, and discipline plans are the go-tos for the common problems facing kids today. There’s a whole lot of room to debate their cause, benefits and consequences though. Behaviors are often provoked by factors like sleep, diet, discipline and structure, and family relationships. In this case, getting a prescription for a stimulant or a depressant leaves the core problems untouched, so more problems are bound to come up later. There are definitely situations that can warrant the use of medication and other interventions, but if we can figure out what the main issues are then we can come up with some creative ways of addressing them.

One such creative approach to helping kids with different needs involves animals. Parents are finding that a little fur perfectly compliments the action plans created for their child’s issues. Sometimes it’s even able to replace meds and one-on-one’s with specialists altogether. Animals have proved to make excellent “therapists” and “aids” because they help reduce problems that kids and families are dealing with, and they even help kids with developing skills and behaviors that address issues at their core. Consider these amazing ways animals are making a difference with children!

Reading

Kids are reading to dogs in schools and libraries across the country, and even Colorado’s own Westminister Public Libraries offer kids sessions with reading dogs. It’s no surprise that a little canine intervention makes books more fun than ever, but reading-therapy dogs are definitely more than some trendy fad. Thanks to the combination of petting and reading to an audience, children can keep focus on the book in front of them. On top of that, dogs offer to listen to kids and support them without a peep of criticism. This has a big impact on cutting down on kids’ anxieties, and it makes reading time go by faster (and with a whole new element of fun). Libraries and schools make reading-therapy dogs easy to find these days, but it’s a role the family dog or cat just might be able to fill, too. With a little training or treat-based incentives, there could be read aloud fun and relaxation in your very own living room.

Autism

Autism Spectrum Disorders can pose some big social challenges. Understanding how to “read” people and being able to decipher the meaning behind nonverbal cues is a frustrating issue that affects friends and families as well as ASD children. But instead of turning to medication for a one-stop fix, some parents are actually looking to horses. These “giant dogs” may not be able to speak, but that’s precisely why equine-assisted therapy benefits autism. Kids have to rely on touch, observation, and intuition in order to interact with their horse. Movements and physical cues may be subtle, but they have much to say about a horse’s needs and moods. Time spent with these quiet and gentle creatures helps kids to develop and utilize their awareness. As kids foster these skills with horses, they’re able to put these same skills to work with people and dramatically improve their relationships and social interactions. A great thing for everybody!

Yes, there are probably more people without horses or an equine therapy program than people with access, but that’s okay because the benefits aren’t limited to only horses. One study shows that simply having a household pet benefits autism. It’s rumored that dogs may be the top runners, but any sort of animal an autistic child connects with poses potential behavioral and cognitive benefits.

ADHD

Focus and attention are everyday struggles with attention disorders, and prescription drugs get handed out like candy to try to keep kids at their desks. Whether or not medication is helpful and necessary is up to families and their doctor, but there are everyday ways to help kids develop their focus. Having an animal is a great way to build routine and attention because pets can teach ADHD children about responsibility. Giving pets the food, water, exercise, and cleaning that they require is a great way for kids to learn routine that will help them firm up their attention and awareness. And similarly to reading dogs, their presence can be very comforting. And as soothing as that petting can be to our mood, it also offers body movement that can actually help hone in focus and reduce distractions.

Emotional Needs

Animals are about as simple and fun as it gets. Not only are they goofy and playful, but they love one on one time. Now matter what’s going on, they’re almost always game for a good petting or some playtime. All this added onto their complete acceptance of us makes them incredible companions, especially when it comes to moods and emotions. Depression, bipolar disorder, have all shown benefits with animal involvement. The bond they offer keeps kids from being withdrawn and isolated, encourages more physical activity, and their furry presence can even increase opportunities for social interaction. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut, but a pet can keep kids from getting lost in the negativity that comes with hard days. And it’s the exact same thing for adults.

Animals are doing some amazing things! Programs everywhere can help kids and families improve their lives in a variety of ways, but simply having a family dog, cat, or guinea pig can be used in much the same way. Consider all the creative ways that a little fur can help improve your own child’s life. They may well be worth the poop cleanup.

Ash Stevens is a mother, writer, and wannabe shaman. She loves health, gardening, simplicity, culture, chocolate, and sarcasm. If she isn't writing or talking about family and relationships on her blog, then she's surely playing badminton with the kids. Find her on Twitter or Facebook and make a new friend! 

If you would like to contribute a guest blog post to the mama'hood, please send pitches or completed submissions to beth@themamahood.com. Guests posts do not necessarily reflect the views of the mama'hood, but we're happy to give you a platform if you have something to say about this adventure called parenting!