The amazing way tortoises, lizards and snails are helping children with anxiety

Children today can be faced with overwhelming issues, from extreme anxiety caused by the pandemic to a challenging home life.

But with support from The National Lottery, HigglePetsCIC is putting its animals to work to help ease their problems.

Becky**, 15, has been back at school since lockdown lifted in September. Unlike her friends, she is too anxious to step inside a classroom and instead spends eight hours a day studying alone in the school library because she struggles to converse using words. At one low point she even considered taking her own life.

But now, thanks to the charity, she has a smile back on her face and is improving daily – and it's all thanks to a very special new friend.

HugglePetsCIC’s Hannah Dixon (below) explains: "Becky really opens up when she spends time with our bearded dragon, Georgie.

“In fact, after just four weeks of working with us, she decided she wants to go back to her English lessons and integrate with her peers again.”

Becky was lucky enough to take part in a six-week course provided by HugglePetsCIC who, thanks to funding from The National Lottery, have taken their animals on the road and are running workshops with schoolchildren in the Wolverhampton area.

“Being around the animals helps the kids build their confidence and self esteem,” explains Hannah. “Some children with special educational needs are very caring, but others struggle to understand emotion and it’s difficult for them to relate to humans, but they are able to bond with the animals straight away.”

But while Hannah has seen a huge rise among children in anxiety exacerbated by the pandemic, the animals are helping with other issues too.

“We had a very friendly and chatty nine-year-old girl who joined the group,” says Hannah. “On the surface there didn’t seem anything wrong, but as she engaged with our rabbit and the trained therapist who runs the sessions, she began to open up. We discovered she was unsafe at home, which she disclosed while discussing reasons our rabbit might like to hide by sitting on her litter box.

“Eventually she revealed that she hid in her room whenever things were scary at home.”

Working with a trained therapist in groups gives the children confidence to talk about their problems and helps them realise they are not alone. The session is a journey. They start being excited about seeing the animals, then they talk about something that worries them and then get lifted back up with positive reinforcement using the animals, as well as the boost of endorphins the animals provide.

“Our animals take a group of scared, unhappy children and help them feel much better about themselves, instilling techniques to help their anxieties,” says Hannah. 

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*Based on figures from April 2019-March 2020.  Players must be 16+. **Name changed.

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