Pets play an important role during child’s extended lockdown isolation


new survey conducted by Mars Petcare of 2,000 parents across the UK and US shows family pets help children better manage feelings of stress and loneliness, which have been greatly exacerbated by virtual schooling as a result of the pandemic.

Around the world, 332 million children have lived under stay-at-home policies for at least nine months and nearly 1.6 billion learners have been affected by disruption of in-person schooling. There are early indicators that the pandemic has had a negative impact on children’s social skills, productivity and well-being. Save the Children report that more than half of children who were separated from friends during the pandemic reported feeling less happy and more worried and this shift to virtual schooling means students may have more distractions and less oversight, which can reduce their motivation.

For many families navigating the stress and challenges of home-schooling, pets have offered children crucial support. More than eight in 10 (83%) 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 agreed their pet supported their child during the unprecedented break from in-person schooling by improving their mood, providing companionship and giving much-needed emotional support.

Pets may make the best study buddy

The survey also found that pets positively impacted a child’s experience of virtual learning and academic performance across all ages – with nine in 10 parents seeing improvements in their child’s emotional, social and core skill development including 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. More than half (56%) report having a pet helped improve their child’s academic performance and 72% say their child is more motivated with a pet around.

“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,” said Mary Margaret Callahan, Chief Mission Officer of the leading therapy animal organisation Pet Partners. “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.”

More time together benefits wellbeing of children and pets

Equally, the survey revealed this increased bond between children and their pets has many benefits for the pet too. The results found 40% of children spent more than two hours of time with their pet each day during the pandemic (compared to just 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. Exploring the important role human-animal interaction can play in a range of settings – from the classroom and office to the hospital or simply at home – is something we, at Mars Petcare, have been committed to for many years,” said Kay O’Donnell, Vice President, Waltham Petcare Science Institute, the fundamental science centre for Mars Petcare. “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.”

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