If you had one when you were a child, you certainly remember very well the first animal that grew up in your home because, for many, it is a full member of the family. Especially since according to the BBC, pets could contribute to the brain development of children in various ways.
Megan Mueller is an associate professor at Tufts University specializing in human-animal relationships. She declares, as if to confirm a widespread intuition: “It’s really important for young children to realize that another living being’s perspective may be different from their own. Perhaps this lesson is easier to learn with an animal than with, say, a sibling.”
According to a study conducted by the researcher, pets would influence the physical health, social skills and even the cognitive development of children. Those who rub shoulders with it would also have more empathy than the others.
A dog, or nothing?
Hayley Christian, associate professor, is interested in shortcuts in demonstrating cause and effect. His team used data from an Australian study of 4,000 children aged 5 to 7, and found that owning a pet was associated with more prosocial behavior than average.
Other research indicates that children aged 2 to 5 who have a dog are more active, spend less time on screens and sleep better. In this case, it is the physical activity related to the dog (like walking it) that makes the difference.
In a study published in 2021, Hayley Christian and her team crossed all this data, controlling for certain factors such as socio-economic status, and concluded that children who regularly practiced physical activity related to their dog had better development. . The researcher assures him: “Children who have an animal they interact with in the early years of life can be said to have social-emotional development benefits.”
That doesn’t mean every kid should have a dog. Megan Mueller looked at the mental health of teens who had pets during the Covid-19 pandemic, compared to those who didn’t. It appears from this study that there would have been… no difference. However, other factors may explain these results.
Regarding the positive influence of animals, the researcher argues that it actually depends on the quality of the relationship between the child and the animal. The time spent with it and the age of the child are important factors: a study thus indicates that children between the ages of 6 and 10 develop a stronger bond with animals that are close to humans, such as dogs and cats, than with birds or fish, for example. But this is reversed in children between the ages of 11 and 14, who seem as attached to each other as they are.
Pets can also strengthen bonds between family members, as a study of foster families suggests. Finally, children who grow up with pets have a better understanding of the animal world in general and behave better with them.