Attachment Theory Between Elementary-Aged Children and Their Pets

Skylar Dial
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The dedication

Of a young child to their pet is the inspiration behind my latest social science paper. This investigation into attachment theory is a validation of my relationship with my own cat, Ziggy.

Ziggy, like any pet, has enriched my life in immeasurable ways. He's taught me independence, responsibility, and unconditional love. But one of the most important lessons he's taught me stems from the emotional attachment theory.

The Attachment

Attachment theory is an approach to understanding and explaining close relationship between humans. Through this theory, attachment between human babies and their parents is explained as the frequency and quality of their interactions. The theory contends that attachment is "an emotional bond that connects a person to another person, animal, or object" (an object could be a teddy bear) (IAHPC 2001).

Researchers over time have expanded the original theory to include not only the type of relationships that influence attachment, but also the attachment style developed through the nature of these relationships. Attachment styles are classified into anxious (a desire to form relationships and stay in these relationships with perceived closeness), avoidance (a desire to avoid forming relationships and staying in relationships), and secure (a desire to form relationships and stay in these relationships with perceived independence; a person with a secure attachment style is independent but dependent).

How do children feel about their pets?

Pet ownership has been found to promote a pro-social and pro-environmental worldview. Children who connect strongly with their pet show a more positive attitude toward animals. As well, they tend to be more independent, more responsible, less attached to stereotypes and less correlated with peer pressure (Cudmore, Wackerly and Clifton, 2005). Pets can be the medium of socialization, particularly for very shy and aggressive children, in contrast with other animals that may perceive children as the aggressors (Mash, 2006).