Were you the kind of kid who felt shy about confiding in people, even your own siblings, but had no problem opening up to your pet? Well, you’re not alone.
In a recent article, BBC spoke with postgraduate psychiatry researcher Matt Cassels about how pets can have a significant effect on children’s emotions.
“They may feel that their pets are not judging them,” said Cassels, citing his 10-year study done on families in Britain.
It was a revelation that came to Cassels himself after also looking at information from a study done by the Centre for Family Research at Cambridge University. “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,” he said.
Cassels found that children in especially difficult situations, such as after a divorce, a death in the family or illness, found their pets to be a very important part of their lives. “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 added.
The relationship between kids and their pets has proven to be therapeutic for children. Pets are better than writing in a diary, as they are living, breathing creatures that “listen” to what the child has to say.
Interestingly enough, Cassels discovered that these types of relationships, especially between girls and their dogs, encouraged children to take part in social behavior, such as “helping, sharing, and co-operating.”
Being an only child, I didn’t have siblings, but I know that I was much more likely to talk to my hamster or my cat when I had a bad day rather than tell my mom. No matter how many friends I had and how close we were, I always gravitated to my pets.
This stayed with me beyond my childhood, to the point where I remember going home after a rough day at work and immediately going to visit my horse. I would lean against her, and though I didn’t usually say anything out loud, I still felt as though she were “listening” to everything I had to say. There were no statistics back then, no studies to say how animals could have a positive effect on children, but even without the official research, I knew it to be true.