Dogs may be man’s best friend, but what about kids? Surely a child’s brothers or sisters are the best friends around? Like best friends, siblings are always there; ready to lend a hand, or an ear, or a shoulder to cry on. When allies are hard to come by, a child’s brothers and sisters are always available to come to their defence.
Siblings are confidantes, rivals, playmates, counselors, scolds, co-conspirators, and instructors. They help teach younger children the ropes; to master the intricacies of social behaviour.
They also, as many of you will be painfully aware, tend to be really good at teaching younger siblings about how to push their parents’ buttons for maximum effect. And, unlike pets, older siblings can generally be relied upon not to relieve themselves on the carpet. So it seems like common sense that a child’s best friend must surely be his or her siblings, right?
Except, they’re not.
According to new research led, in part, by Professor Claire Hughes at the University of Cambridge Centre for Family Research, a child’s best friend is actually the family pet. Childrenget “more satisfaction” from their pets than from their relationships with brothers or sisters.
Perhaps this does not come as a complete surprise to parents who have raised multiple children. After all, rivalries tend to get intense in some families. The concepts of blind devotion and utter loyalty tend to be less than optimal in these families.
Not so with pets. According to the study, children actually get along better with pets than siblings, and pets have a significant impact on child development. Among other positive findings, children who grow up with pets may experience better social skills and enhanced emotional wellbeing.
"Anyone who has loved a childhood pet knows that we turn to them for companionship and disclosure, just like relationships between people”, says Matt Cassels, a Gates Cambridge Scholar at the Department of Psychiatry, who led the study. "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.”
The study involved 12-year-old children from more than 70 families with at least one pet in the home. Children reported they enjoyed stronger relationships with their pets than with siblings.No doubt this had something to do with a related finding: Family pets were less likely to be sources of conflict. In other words: They never talk back. They certainly seem to listen, though.
Again, it should not come as too great a surprise that dogs fared far better on “satisfaction” levels among surveyed children. While cats are no more inclined to talk back than dogs, they’re evidently far less likely to listen to their youthful companions. Or any human, for that matter.
"Even though pets may not fully understand or respond verbally, the level of disclosure to pets was no less than to siblings”, says Cassels. "The fact that pets cannot understand or talk back may even be a benefit as it means they are completely non-judgmental.”
Non-judgmental? Well, that may be a stretch. Is it possible this researcher has never encountered the disapproval of a clearly disdainful cat?
In any event, we finally have proof that pets—especially dogs—are not only man’s best friend, but they make better friends than one’s siblings.
To you and your pets ongoing health and happiness.