When children are facing adverse conditions such as bullying, illness, or divorce in the family, they are much more likely to talk to their pets about it than they are their siblings. Although this may seem counter-intuitive to some, the reasons children do this are actually quite simple. In addition to feeling safe with pets, children also find an unconditionally loving, patient, and joyful presence in their pets.
In order to understand why children bond so deeply with their pets, it is important also to understand what pets provide for children facing adversity. This theory has been proven to a certain extent by research. Psychiatry researchers at Cambridge University studied 100 families in the United Kingdom for ten years and found the following reasons why children confide in their furry family first:
Pets Just Listen
Unlike a sibling or a parent, a pet will never try to talk a child out of what he or she is feeling. Pets do not offer unsolicited advice nor do they minimize or downgrade the child’s concerns, fears, or sadness. Instead, pets provide the all-important service of just listening to the child as he or she divulges what is going wrong. Aside from a sloppy kiss and a request for a game of fetch, kids do not expect any input from the pet, which contributes to the sense of safety children feel with their pets.
Pets are Constant
In the event of a divorce or fissure within the family, children are more likely to live with their pets than they are to live with their fathers. This provides a sense of consistency and safety within the child’s life and serves to elevate the pet to the position of a trusted friend and family member. While adults, siblings, and even the child’s closest human friends may come and go, a pet is always at home, awaiting the child’s return. Because of this, children learn to rely on their pets and see their presence as a sort of safety net.
Pets Do Not Judge
Anybody who has ever been to school understands that school-aged children can be mean, and if a child were to confide his or her troubles to close friends, there is a very real possibility that the child will be judged, bullied, or ridiculed. Fortunately, this is not the case with pets. When a child confides in the family pet, that child has the guarantee that his or her problems will not circle back around in the form of teasing from friends or classmates.
This makes children feel safe and encourages them to tell their pets the truth, which may in turn help the child deal with the issue at hand. When a child feels like he or she has an impartial sounding board, they are more likely to talk about their problems, which can serve the purpose of helping them to process, address, and work through the issues at hand rather than simply bottling them up without adequately addressing them.
Although parents and family members may, at first, be alarmed by the child’s willingness to confide in pets rather than family members, this phenomenon is actually quite common. A pet is a constant loving presence that remains uninvolved in the issues that are causing a child pain. For children facing adversity, a pet acts as a loving, fetching, slobbery-kissing safety blanket that can help them to process their feelings and get into the habit of putting words to their problems.