We all know that dogs can teach us so much — but that learning extends to our children as well. Today we have a special guest post from child and parenting expert Denise Daniels offers 10 ways that dogs can help your child develop emotional intelligence (EQ) skills. Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the process by which children learn to recognize and manage their emotions and connect with others. Unlike IQ, which is fixed at birth, EQ can grow and be nurtured, and what better way than with a loving pet?
- By teaching children to care for something besides themselves- One of the cornerstones of EQ is empathy. We want to start teaching that in early childhood. Caring for a pet gets a self-absorbed child out of him- or herself. Hearing a kitten yowl when it wants to eat, seeing a dog run to the door when it wants to go outside, all of this gets kids to think, “What are their needs, and what can I do to help?”
- By being a non-judgmental pal- If your child got in trouble at school, is struggling to read, or has difficulty with homework—pets don’t care about any of that. They love your child regardless. Of course parents love their children unconditionally, too, but parents have to be disciplinarians. Pets don’t. Whether it’s a dog, cat, or rabbit—a pet simply shows a child the meaning of true friendship.
- By teaching children to read nonverbal cues- So much of human communication is nonverbal—facial expressions, body language, gestures. Children aren’t born understanding those things, but loving a pet can help them learn. When my husband leaves for the airport on Sunday night, our dog pouts in an obvious way. Parents can point out this kind of thing: “Look, Fido is feeling sad today” or “Max the cat is turning his back because he doesn’t want you to leave.” Children will learn how that applies to other humans.
- By teaching responsibility- I’ve heard people say, “I’m not getting a pet because I’m the one who will end up taking care of it.” And it’s true that we have to be aware of our child’s ability level, but at a very early age, children can be taught graduated levels of responsibility, from “Pet the hamster gently” to filling a food bowl to walking the dog.
- By letting boys practice nurturing- All children need to learn this skill, but this is especially important for boys, who—for all our efforts and awareness—are still not taught to show tender feelings. With a pet, it’s socially acceptable to be loving and gentle, scratching pets’ ears and tummies. Then you can talk about it afterwards.
- By providing a natural stress buster- At the National Childhood Grief Institute, we conducted a study with the Delta Society using certified Golden Retrievers in children’s support groups. A therapy dog would sit in front of an emotional child and put its head in the child’s lap. As the child started petting the dog, you could visibly see the child relax. We studied the blood pressure readings of the dogs and the children, and the experience lowered the blood pressure of both. All the research I’ve seen on the subject says the same thing. There’s almost no better way to help a child deal with stress than with the company of a loving pet.
- By boosting confidence- Learning to read can be stressful for a young child. And while reading out loud is critical for literacy, it can be torture for child who’s intimidated or embarrassed. The answer? Read to your pet. With an endlessly patient animal, children can go at their own pace and sound out difficult words with no fear of judgment. The hardest part might be getting a sleeping puppy off your child’s lap when the book is finished!
- By providing stability- After our house burned down in 1989, our family was displaced for months, and our dog Alfie, a Newfoundland, couldn’t stay with us. It wasn’t until we were reunited in our new house that our family was truly whole. People and situations can be unpredictable, but pets are stable, loyal, and true.
- By helping children express their emotions- It can be hard for children to talk about powerful emotions. I’ve worked with children all around the world who’ve dealt with the traumas of war and natural disaster. In New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and in Sandy Hook after the school-shooting tragedy, children had a hard time expressing sadness and anger. What helped them was being able to tell their story over and over and over, until they felt they were regaining control over a situation that felt out of their control. That’s where a loving animal is invaluable. Besides reducing a child’s stress, an animal provides safety and comfort. Dogs just listen and are there for you.
- By making children laugh- Whether it’s chasing laser points or their own tails, jumping into cardboard boxes or rolling in snow, there’s no greater source of free entertainment than a pet doing its goofy thing—and there’s nothing healthier or more joyous than a child bursting into an unselfconscious peal of laughter.
Denise Daniels is a Peabody award-winning broadcast journalist, parenting and child development expert and author who specializes in the social and emotional development of children. Her books have reached more than 15 million parents and children offering practical, simple and essential advice on how to deal with grief, loss and family transitions, as well as the everyday challenges of growing up. Denise hosted her own daily parenting show, Parents Helper, on NBC’s cable network has appeared on numerous morning and primetime TV shows including Oprah, The View and served as a regular contributor on TODAY. She is also the creator of The Moodsters- a new line of toys and books designed to teach young children the fundamentals of feeling- launching exclusively in Target August 2015.
Photo courtesy Pixabay