|CAIRC hosts symposium: The Significant Relation between Pets and Children
~Influences of Animals and Nature on Child Development~
About 230 educators, researchers, veterinarians, students and others attend symposium
| Professor Gail F. Melson and other specialists on relationships between children, animals and nature are invited to panel discussion
The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science
and Technology has made what it calls education of the spirit,
an important part of the educational reforms it plans to carry out
this year. This is clearly an important theme for reform when one
considers the effects of the rapid advance of urbanization and computerization
in our society. One noted approach to education that is consistent
with this theme includes placing children in a natural setting where
they can experience the emotional release that promotes emotional
and spiritual development. Interacting with pets is one way of creating
such experiences. Extensive investigation has confirmed the beneficial
effects that pets have on children, including scholarly research findings,
and many families are raising pets as a means of cultivating sensitivity
among their children.
The activities of the Companion Animal Information and Research Center
(CAIRC) are aimed at promoting coexistence between humans and companion
animals. To that end, CAIRC hosted the symposium on the crucial relationship
between children and animals. Researchers, veterinary specialists
and students were among the roughly 230 participants who gathered
at the TEPIA Hall venue in Tokyos Minato ward, and the event
included a panel discussion that featured an active exchange of views.
Keynote address delivered
by Professor Gail F. Melson, World-renowned researcher on the relationship
between children and pets
The symposium began at 1:00 p.m. on June 8 with the
keynote address Animals in the Lives of Children, which
Professor Melson delivered following opening remarks by CAIRC Chairman
Yoichi Shoda. In addition to being a noted researcher in the field
of child developmental psychology, Professor Melson has conducted
extensive research on the relationship between children and animals.
She presented her research report Pets as a sources of support
for mothers, fathers, and young children at the IAHAIO 8th International
Conference on Human-Animal Interactions in 1998. And her recent book Why
the Wild Things Are: Animals in the Lives of Children (2001)
has received high praise for its presentation of the ways in which
interaction with animals influences childrens growth and development.
Keynote address: Animals in the Lives of Children
~Providing emotional release and nurturing empathy, relationships with pets have a good influence on emotional development~
|By Dr. Gail F. Melson
(Researcher and professor at Department of Child Development & Family Studies
at Purdue University, USA)
Pets play a crucial role in child emotional development, particularly amid the current trend toward the nuclear family and families with fewer children
Statistics indicate that pet ownership among families with children is particularly common in the United States, where 70% to 75% of children grow up with pets. And as the current trend toward the nuclear family and families with fewer children intensifies, children are spending more and more time with companion animals. Zoos, aquariums and natural parks are especially popular, and there are more opportunities to visit such facilities that provide opportunities for contact with animals than there are opportunities to go to professional sporting events. Classroom pets are common, and animals are frequent themes of the dreams of children under 8 years old.
Research has confirmed in recent years that animals play a significant role in childrens lives. Through nurturing pets and investing emotionally in them, children learn to care for and look after others. Pets also provide an opportunity to learn from experiences with death and loss, and they provide emotional and social support during times of stress.
Learning emotional regulation and empathy through playing with pets
First of all, lets take a look at the attachment to pets. There is data to indicate that ordinarily the amount of time a child spends with human family members goes down as the child grows while time spent with pets, on the other hand, increases. It can also be said that the more time that is spent with a pet, the deeper the attachment to that pet becomes. Children learn a great deal from rough and tumble play with pets. They acquire emotional regulation through free expression within safe limits discovering, for instance, how much force can be used without causing pain to others. Also, interaction with pets does not place the kinds of expectations and task demands on children that interaction with adults does. Children are therefore able to relax with pets because they arent required to accomplish tasks.
Thus, we know that children are able to lavish unequivocal affection on their pets. According to interviews with children, a great many children like their pets as much as a good friend or even more than a good friend. My own research show that there is no difference between boys and girls in levels of affection felt toward pets, and that there are few variations corresponding to different species. Levels of affection tend to be higher in households in which the mother is employed full-time, and when no younger siblings are available. The results also indicated that children who express strong affection toward pets tend to have a strong ability to empathize with others, as well as an elevated sense of self-competence.
It was also found that children make no gender distinctions in caring for pets. In boys, the desire to care for younger siblings fades away at about age 5. Both boys and girls, however, appear to continue to maintain a keen interest in taking care of pets. Since boys generally have fewer opportunities to learn how to care for others, caring for a pet can be an important means of compensating for that lack of experience.
Pets are good friends, always available and non-judgmental
Next, Id like to address the issue of animals
and childrens stress. When people feel stress, their sense of
isolation can be reduced when others are nearby. This is because stress
can be relieved through the emotional ease and sense of reassurance
of being a loved, valued member of a group. Another study touches
on this role, as well as other aspects of pets presence. It
confirms that Pets are regarded as good friends who are
always available and never judgmental. They do not require high levels
of verbal or social interaction or reciprocation for the support they
provide. In addition, pets make children feel valued and competent.
Positive outcome depends on adults reactions
One point we need to consider is the fact that although animals can
enrich on childrens development, animals do not inevitably do
so. Parents and teachers have a responsibility to ensure that children
learn from their interaction with animals through teaching by example.
While the cost of raising a pet, the housing situation, allergies
and other factors may preclude keeping animals in the home, opportunities
to nurture pets can be created through visits to facilities such as
parks and zoos. And opportunities for children to care for other living
things are not limited to interaction with animals. By having children
help with gardening, for instance, they can experience tending plants.
In order to ensure that the child takes responsibility for raising
a pet, the child must be made to thoroughly understand that he or
she will be expected to look after the animal for its entire life.
It is therefore important to avoid buying pets on impulse, or giving
animals to them as birthday presents. Of course, it is also essential
that a pet be thoroughly trained, and parents and teachers must take
the ultimate responsibility for the raising of the animals.
Specialists give presentations on various subjects related to children and animals
~Symposium Chairman Mitsuaki Ohta, a professor at Azabu University,
as well as three other panelists, present views~
Adults should understand the presence pets have in childrens lives
|By Misako Namiki, Chiba Zoological Park Society
and Part-time Lecturer at Ferris University
The ways in which we acquire new knowledge are changing.
Our understanding of what it means to learn something has come to
be much more experiential. Much of what we know comes from the learning
experiences in our daily life, and the presence of animals in the
household is therefore a source of a wide range of learning experiences.
In this context it is crucial for parents to understand the presence
animals have in the lives of children, as well as what kind of relationship
children have toward animals, since this can be an indicator of the
child’s emotional state.
A child can learn a great deal in caring for animals simply by discovering
from observation what pleases the animal. By getting to know another,
the child can experience affection, and through experiencing affection,
develop a desire to learn more about the animal. In this process lie
the seeds of a scientific awareness, so it becomes very important
for adults near children who are interacting with animals in this
way to demonstrate to the child that it is highly valued.
All of this brings us to the question of what childrens emotional
development is. We adults tend to place a lot of weight on our own
idealized goals when we educate our children, and this is thought
to lead to forcing children in certain directions or to coloring their
education with our own desires. By thinking critically about our attitudes
toward animals and nature, we are able to plant the seeds of future
development within children. That directly impacts their emotional
development, and will be essential to creating a new relationship
between humans and nature in the future.
Optimizing the learning experience is crucial to promoting emotional development through experiencing nature
|By Mitsuhisa Hioki, Curriculum Senior Specialist,
Curriculum Research and Development Center, National Institute
for Education Policy Research / School-Subject Investigation
Officer, Elementary and Secondary Education Bureau, Ministry
of Education, Culture, Sports,Science and Technology
Legislation was recently passed for the introduction
of experiential education in schools. In addition to the introduction
of the two-day weekend, educational methods incorporating nature-based
experience represent an adaptation to the elevated educational needs
of the 21st century. As an educator whose work is leading nature-based
experiential education activities, I would like to introduce what
I believe to be several crucial points.
The first is the importance of enthusiastically optimizing the learning
experience. By relating the experience to past encounters, and thus
rendering it meaningful, educational value can be maximized. The world
of the unconscious has a major influence on the decision making process,
and actualizing experiences that are closed up in the subconscious
thus gives rise to learning.
The second point I would like to make is the importance of keeping
the goals and aims of the activity in mind. It is crucial to give
thought to the nature of the learning one wants to bring about in
the child. The lessons learned from the same type of experience can
differ depending on the aims of the experience and the ordering of
My third point is to call attention to the vector by which we are
moving toward the future. The present exists between the past and
the future, and we need to be aware of this. Finally, it is crucial
to expand our perceptions of things. The perceptions we have of animals
are different from the experience of a direct encounter with them.
There is something to learn from becoming aware of this gap in perceptions.
By raising plants and animals, we learn a wide range of lessons such
as empathy through long-term relationships with other living things,
and we acquire an awareness of the characteristic differences between
them and ourselves.
Adults should recognize the motivations children
have for raising pets, and the importance of empathy for animals in
child emotional development
|By Yoichi Shoda, CAIRC Chairman and Professor
Emeritus of the University of Tokyo
The motivations people have for raising pets are an
important point to consider when reflecting on animal welfare and
child emotional development. In researching the ways in which Americans
view animals, S.Kellert identified 12 categories of attitudes toward
animals. Among the 12 types of attitudes, those represented by negative
images such as unclean or frightening do not
give rise to motivation to raise pets. By the same token, a complete
lack of interest in animals doesn’t translate into a desire to keep
But there are attitudes that do give rise to a desire to keep pets.
Curiosity about an animal, for instance, is a scientific attitude
that leads to a motivation to keep pets such as insects. The need
to eat has also been a motivation to raise animals for food.
A scientific motivation for keeping an animal does not preclude the
possibility that one can feel affection for it, and even consider
it as a family member. Although it is not the kind of thing that can
be easily categorized, it is crucial in considering children’s emotional
development to regard a pet as a companion animal, that is, to interact
with the animal as a member of the family.
I think that as a child learns from interaction with a pet, it is
necessary for an adult to observe the interaction and thereby determine
accurately what the childs motivation for raising the pet is.
This makes it possible to raise the pet responsibly.
Progress in the scientific study of human-animal relationships and the urgent need for more in-depth research
|By Mitsuaki Ohta, Professor of Veterinary Medicine
at Azabu University
At the IAHAIO 9th International Conference on Human-Animal
Interactions held in Rio de Janeiro last September, a contest was
held in which attendees selected the best of about 20 poster presentations
that were on exhibit. The research presentation of a female researcher
from Austria received the highest evaluation.
The presentation was based on the results of a comparative study of
the behavior of a class of 24 six-year-old children when with pets
and in the absence of their pets. The results indicated that when
a disruption occurred in the classroom, contact with dogs enabled
the class to calm down more readily, thus preventing the disruption
from getting out of control. Elevated levels of autonomous decision
making ability and concentration were also noted.
A number of reports like this one is emerging, based on a scientific
approach to the relationships between children and animals. But much
progress has yet to be made. Approximately 100 years pass from a persons
birth to death, so education cannot be looked at as something with
immediate results. This makes it necessary to firmly establish the
frame of reference for any research project, and I sincerely hope
that this symposium will provide an opportunity to further this objective.
We need to promote interaction
with nature and animals in the home and in schools for the sake of
our children’s future and that of nature and animals
A Q-and-A session was held after the panelists gave
their presentations, during which the following question was aired:
In our life science class for first and second graders we conduct
activities that include interaction with dogs. When asked to draw
pictures of the dogs, the first graders tend to draw the dog alone
with no context. Since the level of understanding is so different,
do you think we should be separating the first graders from the second
Dr. Namiki had the following advice: There are differences in
individual comprehension among the first graders, and while there
may be a question as to whether they are accustomed to expressing
themselves, the important thing is whether a given child is able to
communicate what he or she wants to express using a given method.
And according to Professor Melson, Its said that its
more educationally effective to teach a range of ages at once. The
older children can teach the younger children because they are capable
of becoming teachers with whom the younger children feel a sense of
affinity. But in order for this to take place, an excellent teacher
able to understand the process is required.
Dr. Hioki added: Having children draw pictures before encountering
animals can heighten their sense of anticipation, and having them
draw pictures again afterward enables children to learn what they
did not know before the encounter. Its not a matter of first
graders being able to accomplish less. I think the best thing is for
the teacher to approach the situation flexibly.
In his interview with CAIRC, Dr. Hioki said that In Animal-Assisted
Education, it is essential for veterinarians and teachers to reach
a consensus. Teachers and veterinarians need to communicate with each
other in order to determine the best ways to enhance the process of
discovery and thereby optimize the educational value of the experience.
A kindergartner sees a rabbit
and stops crying contact with animals has a big effect on children
Looking back on the symposium, Professor Ohta noted
that these lectures have provided us with an indication of issues
to be faced in the future. I believe we have to focus on several topics
that require further research. It is my hope that the relationship
between children and animals will be addressed by research projects
conducted not only on a personal level, but on the level of nation
According to Shigemi Kanno, principal of Ayame-dai Kindergarten in
Chiba prefecture, I believe the healing effect of animals on
children is very real indeed. Weve had children who were crying
due to stress from entering a new environment in kindergarten and
stop crying after seeing a pet rabbit.
I live next door to the kindergarten, and keep a pet dog. Children
at our kindergarten all love animals, but among them only about one
household in ten is home to a pet. For many of these children, our
kindergarten provides the only opportunity for contact with animals,
so we want to provide as many such opportunities as possible. Until
recently, we were unaware of the visiting animal program to educational
facilities, but once we know there is no danger involved, we want
to introduce these activities one day.
As the natural environment rapidly disappears from our cities, so
do opportunities for children to have contact with animals. Research
into the relationship between children and pets is significant to
the future of our children and of animals and nature as well. This
is an urgent issue, and CAIRC intend to promote this theme from now
*The symposium was held with the sponsorship of
the Japan Veterinary Medical Association, the Japan
Small Animal Veterinary Association and the Society for the Study
of Human Animal Relations. Cooperation was also provided
by the Animal and Human Bonds, School of Veterinary Medicine, Azabu
University as well as the Japanese Veterinary Council for School-owned