A 10 year longitudinal study conducted by Matt Cassels at Cambridge University in the UK found that children suffering from some form of adversity in their lives are more likely to turn to the family pet for comfort than their friends or siblings.
Children from over 100 families were studied by Cassels, a scholar in social and developmental psychology. He found that children who experience such hardships as death or illness in the family, parental divorce, or economic instability are more likely to have a closer relationship with their pets than children who experience less adversity.
The children with close bonds with their pets also display higher levels of positive behaviors like helping and sharing than their peers.
What type of child-pet relationship is the closest? Cassels was surprised to find that it’s girls with pet dogs. Girls with dogs are the most likely group in the study to choose pets over peers and siblings for emotional support. Cassels notes that young girls can be more verbal than boys, and will engage in conversations with their dogs in a similar way that they turn to journal writing. Dogs are a lot more empathetic than journals, of course!
The study, which followed the children from the ages of 2-12, utilized a new pet attachment scale, similar to ones that measure human attachment. Cassels says that studying pet-human relationships is just as important as studying human-human relationships, particularly in the area of how pets affect children. He notes that more children in the UK and the US live with pets than with resident fathers.
To learn more about the study, click HERE.