Children, Social Development and Family Life
Pets are an integral part of Australian childhood. Research shows that families with children are in fact the most likely group within the community to have a pet. More than being a simple playmate and confidante, research shows that pets can also aid childhood development, particularly the development of nurturing and social skills, and reduce the feelings of stress experienced by children. Pets have also been proven to increase the levels of exercise undertaken by families.
- A study of school children by Guttman et al showed that pet owners were not only more popular with their classmates, but seemed to be more empathetic as well.1
- Self esteem has been shown by researchers to be higher in children and adolescents who have a pet.2 All these factors may help explain the finding by Reinhold Bergler that in a group of German teenagers, feelings of loneliness, restlessness, boredom, despair, depression and futility did not arise so often in dog owners, while this group also thought life was more fun, and had a more positive outlook on life.3
- As part of a large study of the physical activity and sedentary behaviours of Australian children by Salmon et al, it was found that young children in families with pets – particularly dogs – took more family walks than those without pets.4 Older children in families with pets rated outdoor play with pets second only to play with friends. And young teenage girls reported feeling safer when walking alone with their family dog, an important finding when we are more and more concerned about community safety. Even the incidental play children participated in with the family dog increased their levels of exercise.
- The presence of a pet dog during routine physical examination of pre-school aged children was found to reduce heart rate and behavioural distress, indicating the potential for companion animals to provide support to children in stressful situations.5
- Australian research by Dr Kelly Thompson and Professor Eleonora Gullone from the Department of Psychology at Monash University, shows that children with a well developed sense of empathy and attachment behave better towards other people and animals. Empathy towards others is one of the important characteristics of a healthy emotional state. Children that are involved in looking after pets gain a sense of responsibility and an understanding of what it takes to care for an animal and this helps them to treat others around them with the same sense of care.6
- Guttman, G, Predovic, M, & Zemanek, M, ‘The influence of pet ownership on non-verbal communication and social competence in children’, 1983, The Human-Pet Relationship: international symposium on the occasion of the 80th birthday of Nobel Prize winner Prof Konrad Lorenz. Vienna: Institute for Interdisciplinary Research on the Human-Pet Relationship.
- Filiatre, JC, Millot, JL, & Montagner, H, 1985, ’New findings on communication behavior between the young child and his pet dog’, 1985, International Symposium on the Human-Pet Relationship, Vienna: IEMT.
- Bergler, R, 1995,’The influence of dogs on the behavior of juveniles in the big cities’, 1995, Animals, Health and Quality of Life, 7th International Conference on Human-Animal Interactions, Geneva, September.
- Salmon, J, Telford, A, & Crawford D, The Children’s Leisure Activities Study, Summary Report, Deakin University Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition, 2004.
- Nagengast, SL, Baun, MM, Megel, M, and Leibowitz, JM, 1997,‘The effects of the presence of a companion animal on physiological arousal and behavioural distress in children, Journal of Pediatric Nursing, vol. 12, pp. 323-330.
- Thompson, KL, & Gullone, E, ‘Prosocial and Antisocial Behaviours in Adolescents: An Investigation into Associations with Attachment and Empathy’, Anthrozoos, vol.21, no. 2, pp. 123-137.