In many ways, today’s children have so much more than the generations before them.  Increases in disposable income, advances in technology and travel possibilities should leave the world wide open for them.  And yet, 1 in 5 kids has a diagnosable mental health disorder, and the latest CDC figures warn of an obesity crisis.  What can families do to protect and restore the physical and mental health of their smallest loved ones?  The answer may come in the form of a four legged friend. Studies have already shown the significant benefits of dog ownership for adults, but how can we apply these to children, and are there more specific benefits for their age group?

Uplifting mental health benefits

As Psychology Today explores, kids find themselves facing academic, social media and body image pressures daily.  Furthermore, the proliferation of technology means there are very few opportunities to shake free and switch off.  Owning a dog, however, gives them unconditional love, an opportunity to care for another without being tagged on social media, and a sense of companionship and trust.  The mental health benefits of dogs are as significant for children as they are for adults, if not more so.  If there was a toy that could reduce your child’s stress levels, comfort them and ease depression, you’d buy it in a heartbeat, right?

Benefits to physical health

Most people associate owning a dog with regular walking, and that is certainly a key factor in their benefit to physical health.  The government recommends 2.5 hours a week of moderately intense activity such as brisk walking, to start to see health benefits.  Walking the dog each day immediately achieves that (and then some), although if the kids aren’t quite up to a brisk pace, you could try letting them ride their bikes while you walk.  There’s also the motor skills involved in throwing balls or sticks for the dog and learning how to brush and care for them. Further, there is evidence that babies born into homes with pets can be at lower risk of allergies and obesity.

Happier kids, happier parents

As both adults and kids are increasingly attached to their tablets and phones, it’s never been more important to have a shared focus that requires putting down the technology and stepping outside.  The importance of family time can’t be underestimated; it can provide a much needed boost to mental health for both children and parents.  Having a dog at the center of this gives you a shared purpose and enjoyment that helps everyone forget the day to day stresses.

From relieving anxiety and stress to encouraging the family to get up and active, owning a dog can bring numerous benefits to everyone’s health. For your children specifically, it’s also a great way to take some early responsibility and experience giving care.  As parents, seeing your child love and be loved by their canine companion can be a source of great joy. There’s no doubt about it; your whole family’s health can be boosted by the patter of paws.