The Deep Bond Between Companion Animals And Children
Social science is finally progressing towards answering questions like “Why do children often ask for a companion animal instead of a new sibling?”. Many of us remember deep relationships we had formed with companions when we were young. But are such cross-species relationships actually comparable to human relationships? Do they play an important role in social development of children?
In a recent study, researchers at the university of Cambridge set out to explore three aspects related to this topic: firstly, they aimed to establish if the quality of child-pet relationships can be evaluated using the same methods which are used when judging human relationships; secondly, they were curious if gender and companion animal species have an influence on the quality of relationships; finally, they wanted to know if children relate better to their companion animals or their siblings. While interviewing children, the researchers learned that it is indeed possible to view child-companion relationships in the same way as human relationships. In fact, the children expressed their experiences in terms of four relationship aspects: companionship, intimate disclosure, satisfaction, and conflict when asked about both their relationships with companions and siblings.
The scientists confirmed that even though gender does not necessarily influence how strong child-companion relationships are, there are differences in how boys and girls may relate to their pets. Previous studies have noted that young adolescent girls are typically more communicative and the fact that the questioned girls engaged in more disclosure than boys seems to relate to that. Meanwhile, the boys related more in terms of companionship. The companion animals were classified into two categories: dogs and other animals. The study found that child-dog relationships exhibit more satisfaction and companionship compared to relationships with other species.
Interestingly, the study found that the children expressed more satisfaction from their relationships with animals than with their siblings. The child-pet relationships were also described as having less conflict. Previous studies claimed that the companionship felt towards animals plays a major role in the social development during early adolescence. Indeed, children and young adolescents who have pets were shown to be more likely to sign up to various social clubs and engage more often in group activities. The researchers pointed out the possible therapeutic effects of close child-companion animal relationships, too. They might be valuable, especially by protecting young people from otherwise problematic inter-personal relationships. Parallels here are drawn to the association of close sibling relationships and better adjustment among socially isolated children.
Meanwhile, the low conflict associated with child-pet relationships indicates that such relationships are non-conflictual and positive in nature. The findings of this study highlight the importance of young people’s relationships with their companion animals, regardless of gender or pet type, whereas the researchers also express that due to the similarities in companionship and disclosure, pet and sibling relationships are indeed comparable. One of the take home messages for advocates is that, despite slightly better results with dogs, we should promote child-companion animal relationships, and even try extending it to “non-pet” animal species. The acknowledged mutual advantages of such relationships and similarities to human relationships might play an important role in the battle against speciesism.