Animals play an important role in the social and psychological development of children. Unlike a parent, siblings, or other authority figure, a pet can be perceived by a child as a kindred spirit.
A pet is a special friend that they can talk to, laugh with, and confide in. One who is always willing to play. Pets set no rules and offer consistent unconditional love.
Children who are taught to love and respect other living creatures grow up to be more compassionate, caring adults. Kids who harbor overwhelming fear or outright hatred of animals may develop social problems later in life. Research shows that many men and women who commit violent crimes abused animals as youngsters, or were abused by their peers.
Thankfully, the majority of children are instinctively drawn to the mystical charm of animals. Adults capitalize on this behavior by using animals in all forms of entertainment and educational vehicles directed at children. Thousands of books, television shows, video games, songs, and stories have animals in positive leading roles.
Irrational Fear of Pets
Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, children can suddenly become afraid of animals. Fear or phobias can start with something as simple as a large stuffed toy sitting ominously in the moonlight in the corner of a child’s crib, or from something violent and justifiably frightful, such as a vicious attack by a strange dog or aggressive action from the family pet. In some cases, kids who have never even had a bad experience may suddenly develop a phobia or fear of animals.
Some psychologists believe that animals can sometimes become a vehicle of fear in a dream. If that fear is then brought into consciousness, it can have harmful effects in real life when the child meets a similar type of animal. It doesn’t even have to be a real animal that causes the unwarranted fear. It can even be a storybook character, such as the Big Bad Wolf.
Aftermath of Animal Attacks
Most cases of fear can be attributed to real life events. When a child is bitten or threatened by a dog (or other animal), an excessive, irrational fear may develop. This would be considered a phobia, not simply fear. It is no different than fear of the dark, fear of strangers, or fear of heights. The good news is that phobias and fear can usually be treated relatively easily.
Parents should start by realizing what is happening to their child’s body when the fearsome animal is introduced. First, their heart rate goes up, respiration quickens, and the anxiety level escalates.
You should start by teaching the child to relax. Teach them to tighten and then to relax their muscles. Show them how to take deep breaths and control breathing—much like the Lamaze method of childbirth.
Next, try to introduce images or pictures of the animal in the least most menacing state, such as a funny storybook with small cartoon-type illustrations. Then, progress to something more anxiety producing, like natural, full-color photographs.
If dogs, for example, are the problem, start talking about them in positive ways. Tell the child how guide dogs help blind people and how some dogs visit sick people in hospitals to cheer them up. Help the child write and illustrate a funny dog story.
A visit to a small dog kennel, breeder, or pet shop where the animals are quiet, controlled, and non-threatening could also help. Whenever the child is close to a dog, try to make sure that the experience is a positive one.
Be careful not to move too fast through this list of suggestions. This could do more harm and only make the problem worse
Communication is Key
Last, but not least, we can’t forget about the importance of communicating with our children. Most parents are constantly surprised at the insightful attitudes of their children. Sometimes, simply talking things out and explaining that they were bitten because they were too rough with the dog may even do the trick. Perhaps the dog was ill or afraid.
Take your time, be gentle, and if you notice the problem getting worse, seek help. Talk to your doctor or contact the psychology department at a local hospital for advice.
Article submitted by: © Terri Perrin (Biography & Additional Information)