Pets are a child's best friend rather than their siblings
According to a recent study from the University of Cambridge, children get more satisfaction from relationships with their pets than they do from their brothers or sisters. They also appear to get on even better with their animal companions than with their siblings.
Although pets are almost as common as siblings in the UK, there have been relatively few studies looking at the importance of child-pet relationships. This research supports the idea that having pets in the house may have a major influence on child development and positively impact on a child’s social skills and emotional well-being.
This study was published in the Journal of Applied Development Psychology. Researchers surveyed 12 year old children from 77 families with one or more pets of any type and more than one child at home. Children reported strong relationships with their pets relative to their siblings, with lower levels of conflict and greater satisfaction in owners of dogs than other kinds of pets.
"The fact that pets cannot understand or talk back may even be a benefit as it means they are completely non-judgmental." Matt Cassells
Matt Cassells, a Gates Cambridge Scholar at the Department of Psychiatry, who led the study said “Anyone who has loved a childhood pet knows that we turn to them for companionship and disclosure, just like relationships between people. We wanted to know how strong these relationships are with pets relative to other close family ties. Ultimately this may enable us to understand how animals contribute to healthy child development”.
He went on to say ‘‘Even though pets may not fully understand or respond verbally, the level of disclosure to pets was no less than to siblings. The fact that pets cannot understand or talk back may even be a benefit as it means they are completely non-judgmental.
“While previous research has often found that boys report stronger relationships with their pets than girls do, we actually found the opposite. While boys and girls were equally satisfied with their pets, girls reported more disclosure, companionship, and conflict with their pet than boys did, perhaps indicating that girls may interact with their pets in more nuanced ways.’’
Dr Nancy Gee, Human-Animal Interaction Research Manager at WALTHAM and a co-author of the study, said “Evidence continues to grow showing that pets have positive benefits on human health and community cohesion. The social support that adolescents receive from pets may well support psychological well-being later in life but there is still more to learn about the long term impact of pets on children’s development.”
Reference: Cassells, M et al. One of the family? Measuring early adolescents' relationships with pets and siblings. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology; 24 Jan 2017; DOI: 10.1016/j.appdev.2017.01.003