Pets to Help with Trauma


When you adopt a child internationally, the child comes from a place of loss and will likely join your family with underlying trauma. Your adopted child is in a new environment and country, learning a new language, tasting new foods, adjusting to new customs and a new family.  All these changes and adjustments can cause anxiety that may surface as behavioral problems, all related to trauma. There are many treatment plans to help a child with their trauma. Below are some suggestions for adoptive parents to remember when your child is exhibiting trauma related behaviors:

  • Being emotionally and physically available
  • Respond don’t react
  • Never use physical punishment
  • Don’t take your child’s behavior personally
  • Listen to your child
  • Help your child learn to relax
  • Be consistent and predictable
  • Be patient
  • Allow your child to have some control  
  • Encourage self-esteem

There has also been research over the last few years that therapy animals have been beneficial for children who are experiencing trauma from abuse and neglect and who have joined a family through adoption. Therapy animals can help the child learn to form a healthy attachment and provide feelings of safety, but also helping them learn to open up more. It can help your child develop social skills with other children while building their self-esteem. Researchers have found that therapy dogs are the most effective with children who have been abused or neglected. Dogs have a natural way of showing love and nurturing which can reassure the child that they are accepted and supported. Dogs and children can develop a relationship with very few words because dogs provide a sense of connection. This can be helpful for children who are adopted and have a language barrier or have experiencing trauma that effects their ability to speak.  It is also important to take into consideration if your adopted child comes from a culture where dogs are not considered house pets and may be feared, in this scenario introducing a dog may need to be reconsidered or done more slowly.

Family Experiences Concerning Adopting a Previously Institutionalized Child from Russia or Romania by Deanna Linville, MS states that when she studied 20 families who had adopted all had pets in the home and all families said that the pets benefited the child. There were also families that reported that having animals in their home helped their child transition into the new home. The child and animal could connect on a similarity that they are both new and adapting together.

All in all, it is always important to make decisions about what is best for your child and your family on an individual case basis. Although many people find therapy animals to be a wonderful, beneficial part of their life, it is important to remember the unique needs and ramifications on your child and family.” -National Council for Adoption

Below are some links to provide you with additional resources about therapy animals benefitting children:

MLJ Adoptions offers support services that can assist you with the traumas and attachment difficulties your child and family may be experiencing. MLJ’s Support Services Team can provide support resources and guidance to MLJ families. For more information regarding these services, email