a girl and a dog relaxing in the grass


It’s always interesting and so cute to see elementary-aged children’s attachment to certain kinds of animals as a pet, usually dogs. This kind of friendship is very beautiful and is very true. It not only brings joy to your child but also educates and makes them social. Pets become best friends and teach children how to take care of a friend, how to be responsible and how to be patient. This is a “lasting psychological connectedness” according to the first attachment theorist John Bowlby.

Due to attachment theory, there are 4 principal elements of attachment:

  • Safe Haven. A child who feels scared can return to his beloved pet to feel comforted and relaxed.
  • Secure Base. The caregiver provides a secure, reliable base from which the child can explore the world.
  • Proximity Maintenance. The kid loves to stay close to his pet, which makes him feel safe because he trusts his pet so much.
  • Separation Distress. The kid becomes distressed when separated from his pet.

Here, we can add another point which is when a child’s beloved pet is facing some health problems – dog ear infections for instance. We bring this example as this is a kind of problem which repeats again and again and needs a proper treatment. This kind of continuous problems are sources of small stresses for our children.

It’s proved by the researchers of the University of Florida that pets help children to get over stress. And of course, because pets become children’s best friends, the opposite also happens.

The dedication

All of us as adults lean on our true friends and siblings who will support us in any situation. These people are essential in our lives as we feel more secure and confident.. As study author Sigal Zilcha-Mano and his respective colleagues believe, pets do the same function for kids. Pets become true friends and kids very often lean on them. Pets support children and help them heal their psychological problems. They shouldn’t necessarily be able to talk in order to help – they help by just being there for kids whenever they want to talk to someone or tell about their problems. Kids very often don’t tell their parent about their bad behavior, but they tell them to their dogs.

Indeed, this may seem counterintuitive as far as pets are unable to fully understand or help children, speak or give advice, as well as for many other reasons. However, in accordance with these researchers, frequently a child’s relationship with his dog (pet) is based on love, warmth, loyalty, and stability. All those, usually lead to feelings in the child (or any human) of being loved very much and unconditionally. This attitude of complete acceptance makes pet owners and usually kids look to their dog for reassurance and comfort during tough times – like when they’re facing health problems.

Girl Hugging Dog

The Attachment

It’s not a secret that a lot of researches focus on children’s attachment to their parents but because so many children have great relationships with their pets, it also becomes important to research children’s attachment to their animals. The number of children having pets is great and because of this simple reason, many professionals across the world do researches, tests, and surveys to understand how pets reflect on people and to know more about the pet-owner relationship.

For example in Scotland over 1200 elementary-aged children from 24 different schools completed the questionnaire in a class where it was clear that 67% of the children had a pet, and 54% had a pet that was their own. Of course dogs (35%) and cats (22%) were the most famous types of pets, however, the list also included fish, small mammals, birds, and reptiles.

It’s important to mention that children had more powerful attachments to dogs and cats than to other types of pet, which seems logical. This is because the relationship with different pets are different mainly because of the responsiveness to the kid’s emotions, as well as most probably to the fact that some pets like dogs are able to go places with the child. In any case, we cannot have a 100% true pet-attachment measuring scale as it includes some points that do not apply to all pets (e.g. behavior can’t apply to fish) which makes it hard to compare the results.

Nevertheless, attachment applies to our sense to form emotional connections with our caregivers. In this situation, pets are one of the caregivers for children no matter how strange it may sound. At the same time, we need to pinpoint that the solid attachment between a kid and his pet is good for children’s growth and their mental health. It indeed has a shielding effect against different problems like anxiety disorders or juvenile delinquency.

Girl Hugging Dog by a Lake

How do children feel about their pets?

Children have very positive attitudes their dogs, which is not surprising. Dogs are loyal, they are clever and they become best friends.

Among the elementary-aged children we talked about before, 83% stated that their dog helps them feel happy, 80% said they love their dog, and 76% declared their dog was their best friend. All those children had very high scores for love and devotion to their pets let it be a dog, cat, a bird or any other animal. This indicates that it’s important to investigate children’s attachment to pets even further.

The researchers state:

“These tests and questionnaires clearly show that children with dogs (or who had any kind of pets in the past) scored higher on all attachment items than those who doesn’t or never had pets. The findings show that children who grow up with dogs (or any kind of pets) have an early opportunity to form pet attachments, are emotionally connected to their dogs through the direct line and love to spend quality time with their dogs”

These results prove one more time that pets are important to elementary-aged children and that they can form strong attachments to their owners. We, as parents should think about having a pet for our children if they feel like they want to have one but surely this doesn’t mean that every parent out there should get a pet for their child right now – having a pet is a big responsibility that needs planning. Plan carefully and think twice before getting a new pet.

Featured Image Credit: Ronnachai Palas, Shutterstock