I loved animals as a child, and I see my girls are just as crazy about them as I was. Of course, as a vet, I still do love animals, but many people lose that deep connection they felt in their youth to other species. And most children feel strongly for all creatures great and small. My little A, who’s now almost three, refers to our cats and dog as her “brothers and sisters”, though she actually now has a little human sister (whom she’s also obsessed with). So why do children show such an affinity for animals?
I’m no psychologist, (though my father is), but I think children recognise a part of themselves in animals, and animals for the same reason are often drawn to children.
Children not only obsess over animals, they’re also captivated by other children, actively seeking them out and interacting with them every chance they get.
Children and animals live in the now, they’re living every moment in that moment. They’re therefor almost incapable of malice and bad intent. They’re naturally innocent and very curious; interested in all things that move and make noise…which children and animals do a lot of!
And let’s face it, animals are cute and cuddly. When my little A sees a picture of a fuzzy bear or lion she immediately says she wants to hold and hug it.
And there’s no harm in this obsession-as long as they aren’t actually trying to cuddle large wild predatory animals. Children who are exposed to animals and have cultivated a relationship with an animal or pet show higher social skills and empathy (Daly and Morton, 2006, 2009). And kids who have negative feelings toward animals or are cruel to animals correlate to weaker social skills and ability to empathize with others-human and non-human beings (Thompson and Gullone, 2008).
So it’s a good sign that your kid wants to bring home and care for that baby possum she found all alone in the yard (yes, this was me and my poor mother who later had a large adult sized possum as a work buddy in her outdoor art studio.) Within reason, and of course with safety precautions, it’s a great idea to support our children’s natural inclinations toward the feathered and four-legged…you never know, they may even grow up to be a veterinarian one day.
Why do you think kids are so drawn to animals?
Daly, B. & Morton, L.L. (2006). An investigation of human-animal interactions and empathy as related to pet preference, ownership, attachment, and attitudes in children. Anthrozoos, 19(2), 113-127.
Daly, B. & Morton, L.L. (2009). Empathetic differences in adults as a function of childhood and adult pet ownership and pet type. Anthrozoos, 21(2), 123-127.
Thompson, K.L. and Gullone, E. (2008). Prosocial and antisocial behaviors in adolescents; An investigation into associations with attachment and empathy. Anthrozoos, 21(2), 123-127.