Pets are a child’s best friend, not their siblings
The new study by researchers at the University of Cambridge in the UK adds to the increasing evidence that household pets may have a major influence on child development and could have a positive impact on children’s social skills and emotional well-being.
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.
"Anyone who has loved a childhood pet knows that we turn to them for companionship and disclosure, just like relationships between people,” says Matt Cassells, a Gates Cambridge Scholar at the Department of Psychiatry, who led the study.
“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”
"While previous research has often found that boys report stronger relationships with their pets than girls do, we actually found the opposite," he said.
"While boys and girls were equally satisfied with their pets, girls reported more disclosure, companionship, and conflict with their pet than did boys, perhaps indicating that girls may interact with their pets in more nuanced ways," he added.
"Even though pets may not fully understand or respond verbally, the level of disclosure to pets was no less than to siblings,” says Cassels. “The fact that pets cannot understand or talk back may even be a benefit as it means they are completely non-judgmental.