Pets give children emotional support
Research reported by the BBC suggests that children who are facing adversity, such as illness or parents splitting up, are more likely to confide in their pet than brothers or sisters.
The research by Matt Cassels at Cambridge University is based on a 10-year study of 100 families in the UK and examined data from a longitudinal study carried out by the Centre for Family Research at the university, which tracked children from the age of two. The information on pet ownership was based on when children were aged 12.
Mr Cassels said: “The data on pet relationships stood out, as it had never occurred to me to consider looking at pet relationships, although I had studied children’s other relationships.
“These children not only turn to their pets for support when faced with adversity, they do so even more than they turn to their siblings.
“This is even though they know their pets don’t actually understand what they are saying."
He suggests that people have associated pets with children’s play and have not approached it in terms of a relationship.
Mr Cassels says the research shows that children facing emotional difficulties, such as “bereavement, divorce, instability and illness” place a particular importance on their pets.
The research suggests that children were also likely to have a stronger relationship with their pets than their peers.
Such relationships, particularly when it was girls with pet dogs, encouraged more social behaviour, such as "helping, sharing, and co-operating".
There was a therapeutic side to this relationship, he suggested, with the pets playing the role of the listener and being more "empathetic" for children than writing problems into a diary.
The study, he said, showed that it was "valid to talk about child pet relationships in the same way we talk about sibling relationships".
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