Pets can be such a powerful force of good in your child’s life, providing companionship, compassion and other benefits. These benefits may even help stop bullying as well as boost self-esteem in children who are bullied.
Before we get into the benefits of having a pet and how they can stop bullying, I want to tell you a story. When I was a little girl, I had a German shepherd named Jake. In school, I was never one of the “popular” kids. I had (still have) a lot of nervous habits, like blinking a lot, twitching my nose and other odd little mannerisms. I would learn to control one and another popped up in its place. This resulted in a lot of teasing from other kids.
Every day after school, I spent time talking to my dog about my day. We’d share cookies at the top of the steps while snuggling. I’d talk, he’d listen. That time with my dog was my saving grace. He made me feel important. So important that he taught himself how to unlock doors to come find me when I was out playing! Nothing could keep my dog away from me.
After he died, we moved into a place that didn’t allow pets. Around that time, I developed adolescent-onset clinical depression. Not having a pet wasn’t the cause of depression, the chemicals in my brain were responsible for that. Still, I wonder how my turbulent teen years would have been different if I had a pet to talk to every day. Fortunately, my son is growing up with three dogs, two cats, two guinea pigs and a parrot that he can talk to about his day.
How can pets help stop bullying?
So how does all this translate into helping stop bullying? Think about it: pets not only give unconditional love, they inspire us to love unconditionally as well, which goes a long way to helping you to avoid raising a bully. Take a look at a few ways pets can help stop bullying as well as soothe those who are suffering from bullying.
- Respect, compassion and forgiveness. Having a pet can help teach children to respect others and show compassion to those in need. Pets respond to emotional cues. Showing them love, even when they’ve eaten your favorite pair of shoes, teaches children to have compassion for others and to forgive rather than lash out when something goes wrong in the relationship.
- A vault for secrets. The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry describes pets as “safe recipients of secrets and private thoughts.” Pets are like a diary that you don’t have to write in, a safe without a code to remember. They are excellent listeners, allowing your child to express feelings that she may not feel comfortable discussing with another person. When a child is being bullied, that safe vault may be exactly what she needs to work through her feelings. On the flip side, a child who is feeling angry can also talk it through with his pet, which can help prevent the anger from escalating to bullying other children.
- Social interaction and confidence. Pets are fabulous for enhancing social interaction in children. Owning a pet opens up a world of social possibilities. Two children from completely different backgrounds can bond over their love of guinea pigs. Outings to a dog park can help kids find other animal loves to play with. Even a walk around the neighborhood lets kids get out and meet other children. A shy child may be more likely to open up to potential new friends with her faithful furry companion by her side. Talking about her pooch is a lot easier than talking about herself. Social awkwardness can both cause children to bully and be bullied by others.
How to use pets to stop bullying when you can’t have a pet
First, understand that although I use dogs a lot in the examples, any kind of pet can provide benefits to help stop bullying, from guinea pigs to parrots. Even a fish can have benefits! Sure, you can’t cuddle with it, but you can talk to it and build on a love of fish to increase social interactions. What do you do if that’s even out of the question? Easy. Use other people’s pets!
Seriously, if you have a friend with a pet that is great with children, let your child spend a little time with him. If you’re willing to supervise, let your child volunteer to walk a neighbor’s dog or feed their cat while they’re at work. Obviously, you should never leave your child alone with a strange animal, but with your supervision, you can help her engage with pets and reap the benefits.
Want to learn more about bullying? Check out our complete guide to preventing and coping with bullying.
Do you have pets? How do your kids interact with them? Do you have any other tips for reaping the benefits of pets without actually having a pet? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!