Psychological Impact of Goats for Children with Stress
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As a possible result of the pandemic, researchers report that 24% of children suffer from stress, anxiety, fatigue, and depression, with little social support. This is a brutal reminder that COVID-19 is a huge interruption for youngsters and teenagers. The outward effects can take the form of clinginess, irritability, and sleeplessness. A review of letters and calls to Santa Claus during the holiday season from young children illustrate their distress and worry about the future. For example, one child was heard saying, “I don’t want many toys, Santa, but please help me get rid of that awful virus.” Another child added, “Santa, will you get us out of this virus mess? I promise I’ll be good.”
Contrarily, the positive effects of being in the presence of nature in all its forms are well known. The forced isolation of pandemic precautions has restricted communication with nature, bringing stress to every family. But wildlife and nature offer a healing salve making the world a place of peace, health, and inspiration. A growing number of studies suggest that connection with nature can ease symptoms of stress and boost the immune system. With children, interactions with nature serve to help them navigate their environment, test their strengths, and encourage awareness of belonging and being a part of nature.
Many families are taking the opportunity to visit local, state, and national parks where they walk, run and hike, enjoying the outdoors, feeling free as “a place to go.” This kind of adventure increases heart-felt emotions and addresses children’s needs, perhaps bonding with the outdoors and animals. Schools have responded to this need, such as bringing classes outside and going on nature field trips, respecting social distancing. Families have also moved their emotions from being stuck indoors to enjoying outside offerings.
It is widely accepted that animals and the natural environment positively impact humans, both psychologically and physically. Research demonstrates and proves that the human brain and body react to nature, which results in measurable improvement. Studies also show that interaction with animals reduces physical pain, anxiety and blood pressure, feelings of isolation, and overall stress. The interaction simultaneously increases the immune system, feelings of belonging, security, and social skills in children, especially with the increasing lack of disengagement over the past three decades, between children and nature.
To address this issue, another intriguing effort has been to bring groups of children, socially distanced, to places where they can be in the presence of animal life on farms or in zoos. One unique strategy brought a child to a goat farm where the goats and children could interact — with the farmer’s help. The results proved to be interesting in that the child’s attitude became more positive. Why a goat? Well, who wouldn’t want to meet goats? They are friendly, loving, sensitive, and intelligent.
“Hugging a goat restores our inner joy,” says Kathy Mullins, founder of A Better Way Farm and Goat Dairy. Mullins and a growing number of goat farmers offer goat cuddling sessions and backpacking sessions with goats, which creates joy for children.
Another of the most recent goat-get-togethers is hiking with goats. Chestnut Farms in Massachusetts is a magical place to explore woodlands and meadows. Many activities occur, such as running, playing, and hiking with goats. The farm also offers Goat Day, a time when goats are harnessed and put on a leash. The leash is so they won’t get off the pre-assigned trail as they sometimes like to wander.
Hiking goats are cute, friendly, and will follow wherever the leader or child walks. No one advocates purchasing a goat, but several events and places that a child can attend will alleviate anxiety and stress.
“It is fun, engaging, and educational,” says Elaine Klonicki. “And it is certainly worth the experience to see my daughter’s face light up with joy when she walks along with a goat.”
Klonicki went on to say that she could almost feel the release of tension, “even inside myself as well as my daughter.”
Every day more people are discovering the positive influences of goats and how they react to various situations, whether it be to supply milk or accompany an anxious child hiking along a trail. Goats have become popular as pets, also. According to The Washington Post, “If America’s goats were their own state, its population would be larger than that of Wyoming, Vermont, D.C. and North Dakota, combined, adding up to more than three million goats in the United States.”
“Goats have so much to offer their human companions,” says breeder Pat Showalter. “It’s no wonder more people are choosing to share their lives with goats.”
Displaying a friendly and curious nature, goats have been recently discovered as an animal that reaches the hearts of children, helping them cope every day, during times of stress and especially during the pandemic that currently embraces everyone.
- American Academy of Child and Adult Psychiatry
- National Institute of Health (The Future of Pets)
- Dr. Rhonda Clements of The Children and Nature Network and The No-Child Left Behind Coalition.
- Kathy Mullins — A Better Way Farm and Goat Dairy (Charlottesville, Virginia)
- Chestnut Hills Farm (Massachusetts)and Coral Gables Florida
- Kinder Goat Breeders.com (Patricia Lou Showalter) Kinder Goat Breeders Association
Originally published in the March/April 2021 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.