Anyone with siblings may not be surprised to be find that kids have less conflict with their pets than with their brothers or sisters.
While many families have pets, there hasn’t been a lot of research done on the importance of child-pet relationships. Researchers with the University of Cambridge wanted to shed more light on these relationships by developing a system to test them. The study was published online in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology and will appear in the March 2017 print edition.
Matt Cassells, a Gates Cambridge Scholar at the Department of Psychiatry who led the study, explained the purpose in a press release, “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.”
First, researchers established a Network of Relationships Inventory (NRI) to help them evaluate a pet adaptation of an established measure of human relationship quality. The team selected 12-year-olds from 77 families, and used the NRI to examine how relationships with pets vary. They looked at pet type, the child’s gender, and compared the children’s relationships with their pets to relationships with their siblings.
Girls reported more disclosure, companionship, and conflict with their pet than boys. However, children also reported more satisfaction and less conflict with their pets than with their siblings.
‘‘Even though pets may not fully understand or respond verbally, the level of disclosure to pets was no less than to siblings,” said Cassels in the press release. “The fact that pets cannot understand or talk back may even be a benefit as it means they are completely non-judgmental.
This study shows the importance of early adolescents’ pet relationships, although more research must be done to determine the long-term impact of pets on children’s development.