Pets have a remarkable impact on expat children. Apart from acting as a great distraction to the stress of moving country, studies show that pets can play an important role in building self-esteem, fulfilling a therapeutic role and boosting children’s physical health.
As children learn to take care of their pet, they develop a sense of responsibility which also boosts self-confidence.
An animal companion is also a surprising “social facilitator” in the sense that they can help children to make new friends – something that may be a real challenge for kids moving abroad. Pets can act as a bridge between their little owners, as it is easier for children to approach and interact with one another; they make great “icebreakers”. Also, animals are great conversation starters, especially as pets are often a common interest amongst children.
Pets are the best listeners
Unlike people, pets always accept us for who we are. As a result, pets can fill the role of ‘listener’ and comforter when a child feels unhappy or lonely; they can lower feelings of anxiety and reduce boredom. Research tells that when feeling down, children are more likely to turn to their pet to confide in rather than a brother, sister or peer. In certain situations a child will rely heavily on their nonjudgmental animal companion, for example, if their parents are going through a divorce.
Pets are not only good for children when it comes to their emotional and social well-being, but they can also play a role in their physical health. It turns out that children who grow up with pets are less likely to develop common allergies and infections, as they are exposed to certain bacteria at an early age (e.g. by being licked by a dog or rolling in the grass). Animals also encourage children to get active, whether it be running, walking or simply just getting some fresh air. This lessens the pressure on you as a parent to try and force your children to pry their eyes away from the television screen.
If you are moving country, it is worth bearing in mind how much a four (or two-legged) companion can help the settling in process.