London: A new study shows that children get more satisfaction from the relationships with animals than with their siblings.
The new study adds to the increasing evidence that household pets may have a major influence on child development and emotional well-being –-something that scientists have long overlooked.
The main goal of the research was to find out more about how having pets in the family can influence kids' well-being and development as they grow up.
Pets are almost as common as siblings in western households, although there are relatively few studies on the importance of child-pet relationships.
"Anyone who has loved a childhood pet knows that we turn to them for companionship and disclosure, just like relationships between people," said Matt Cassells from University of Cambridge, 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," said Cassells.
Researchers surveyed 12 year old children from 77 families with one or more pets of any type and more than one child at home.
The researchers found that children reported strong relationships with their pets relative to their siblings, as well as lower levels of conflict and greater satisfaction in owners of dogs than other kinds of pets.
"Even though pets may not fully understand or respond verbally, the level of disclosure to pets was no less than to siblings," said Cassels.
"The fact that pets cannot understand or talk back may even be a benefit as it means they are completely non-judgmental," Cassels added.
"While previous research has often found that boys report stronger relationships with their pets than girls do, we actually found the opposite," he said.
"While boys and girls were equally satisfied with their pets, girls reported more disclosure, companionship, and conflict with their pet than did boys, perhaps indicating that girls may interact with their pets in more nuanced ways," he added.
Although pets cannot replace the valuable role that siblings play in people's lives, the results suggest that they play big role in their lives.
Previous studies have suggested that not only do pets encourage the development of children with autism, they also reduce anxiety and stress levels in all children.
The study has been published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology.
(With PTI inputs)