Children are more likely to confide to a pet about a household crisis, expressing their emotion to the family dog or cat, preferred over a sibling or a friend, and for sure over the parents, according to a study in the U.K.
Though the relationship between pets and children as friends and playmates has often been studied, there isn’t as much about the role of a pet as a confidante, said Matt Cassels, the researcher.
Cassels began by looking at data from a 10-year study in the U.K. on the social and emotional devlopment of children in 100 different families, which included a section on children’s relationships with their pets.
“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,” Cassels told BBC.
Cassles suggested that there is a therapeutic side to this relationship, as pets play the role of the listener and are more “empathetic” for children than writing problems into a diary, for example.
Children not only turn to their pets for support when faced with adversity, they do so even more than they turn to their siblings. Of course, the pets don’t exactly understand what the children are saying, and children know that….still there’s something about listening unconditionally.
Results of the study showed that children suffering from different kinds of adversity —such as a death in the family, divorce, instability and illness — or came from disadvantaged backgrounds “were more likely to have a stronger relationship with their pets than their peers,” Gates Cambridge wrote as overview on the research.
In the U.S. skewing the data, about two-thirds of children live with their father, while about four in five of families with school-age children have a pet – which says something about our society. Are pets more dependable than there being a dad?
More studies have been done in recent years to look into the many different affects pet-owning can have on children, including those with mental disabilities, such as a study on pets aiding autistic children in becoming more assertive.