Family pets can provide comfort and help children better manage feelings of stress and loneliness as they go through virtual learning amid the pandemic. This is according to a study of 2,000 parents across the US and UK from Mars Petcare.
The study found that pets positively impacted a child’s experience of virtual learning and academic performance across all ages.
The majority, or 9 in 10 parents, said they saw improvements in their child’s emotional, social and core skill development. These improvements included having more energy and improved concentration, providing a fun topic of conversation to engage with their classmates and teacher, and giving them a much-needed break away from the screen.
Meanwhile, more than half, or 56%, of parents reported that having a pet helped improve their child’s academic performance and 72% say their child is more motivated with a pet around.
According to the study, pets have also offered children crucial support for many families who are facing the challenges of home-schooling amid the pandemic.
The majority, or 83%, of parents found that their family pet helped their child feel less lonely during lockdown, with more than three-quarters feeling that day-to-day interactions with their cat or dog reduced their child’s stress and anxiety.
Parents also agreed their pet supported their child during the break from in-person schooling by improving their mood, providing companionship and giving much-needed emotional support.
“There are proven benefits to having pets in the classroom when it comes to improving children’s confidence, focus and reducing their stress, but this survey shows that pets also played an important part in helping children emotionally as they come to terms with this unprecedented time away from their peers,” Mary Margaret Callahan, Chief Mission Officer of the leading therapy animal organisation Pet Partners said.
“We’ve been absolutely overwhelmed with the response from teachers, parents and students to our teams’ virtual therapy animal visits during the pandemic. There is now an important role for animals in helping children adjust as they return to school,” Callahan continued.
The increased bond between children and their pets has many benefits for the pet too.
The survey found 40% of children spent more than two hours of time with their pet each day during the pandemic (compared to 21% before the pandemic) and the majority of parents (77%) believe their pet is also calmer now that they spend more time with their child.
“Talking or reading to a pet has been shown to help children to build confidence and connect with both peers and teachers,” Kay O’Donnell, Vice President, Waltham Petcare Science Institute, the fundamental science centre for Mars Petcare, said. “It is wonderful to see these survey results reinforce how pets may help address the growing burden of loneliness and social isolation, which we know can be as detrimental to health as obesity, as well as indications pets have benefited from this additional time together.”
Most parents (80%) believe pet interaction should be used in schools as students begin to transition back to traditional classrooms and restrictions ease. Three-quarters (75%) of parents also believe schools should invest more to bring controlled pet interaction into the traditional classroom setting.