Are real pets better than toys?
Toddlers and animals are a risky combination. Whenever I see Jack anywhere in the vicinity of a dog – leash or not – I have images of the animal latching onto his wrist with its jaws, or Jack squeezing all life out of the thing with an ‘affectionate’ hug.
In addition to the cost and general responsibility of looking after a pet, safety for both animal and child is probably one of the main reasons toy animals were invented in the first place.
I say child safety, but I also mean parent safety too. There’d be no chance of me letting a python anywhere near my house.
But apparently, real animals are very much a better option for kids. Or at least this is the conclusion of a recent study by University of Virginian and Rutgers University psychologists, whom we tend to trust know what they’re talking about.
Children as young as 11 months were found to prefer live animals to toy ones, even those often deemed as ‘scary’ such as snakes and spiders.
Not having a pet myself at the moment, it’s difficult to look at Jack’s behaviour and compare it to his interactions with toys. What I can say though, is that Jack regularly behaves as if his animal toys are real.
For example, Jasper the dog will often be dragged around the living room on a leash, fed using a baby bottle and treated to half-eaten portions of pasta when mum and dad’s attention is elsewhere.
But apparently, real animals evoke even more high-quality interactions with children, who were found to gesture more towards real animals than toys, as well as ask carers more questions about their wellbeing.
We all hear horror stories about children squeezing the life out of small rodents like hamsters and gerbils, but in reality this is probably quite rare.
A rabbit is still on the cards for Jack, and its beginning to feel like there are very compelling reasons to get him one while he is still quite young, despite all the previous reservations we’ve had about whether it would be appreciated or not.
If this study is anything to go by, he stands to get as much out of a pet at three years old as he will do when he’s a few years older.