Military-connected children appear to gain resiliency through human-animal bond

Children from military families often have a difficult time coping with challenges such as frequent moves and parental deployment, but new research shows that maintaining a strong bond with companion animals can bolster their resiliency.

Researchers from Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, in collaboration with the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC) and with funding from Zoetis, conducted an online survey of nearly 300 children in grades 6-12 − all from military families. About 70 percent of the children surveyed had family pets and most of them were somewhat involved in care-taking.

Researchers used the survey to collect responses on measures of human-animal interaction (HAI), positive youth development, stress, and adaptive coping strategies.

Bond with animals appears to benefit military-connected children

According to Tufts, the study showed that greater attachment to companion animals was associated with higher positive youth development scores (measuring characteristics of competence, confidence, connection, character, and caring) for all military-connected children.

Additional findings included:

  • Children with at least one currently deployed family member had significantly higher perceived stress levels than those that didn't.
  • HAI didn't appear to have a strong relationship with coping skills for children without a deployed family member, but there was a significant positive correlation between the two for kids dealing with deployment.
  • The research supported prior work from study author Megan Mueller, Ph.D., who has emphasized the importance of the quality and strength of the bond between children and their pets. 

Sandy Franklin, Ph.D., of the MCEC, detailed the various benefits military-connected children seem to gain through human-animal interaction based on the study results.

"Through this work, we recognize the importance of establishing connections that help kids develop a sense of responsibility and outward focus," Franklin said. "We now know that caring for a pet boosts self-confidence, establishes important routines, and provides a stabilizing force in the highly mobile life of a military child."

Tufts reported that although more must be learned about emotional attachment to pets in relation to coping strategies and emotional stressors, interactions with pets could be a "cost-effective way to help military families thrive and foster resiliency during challenging times."

Learn more

Read the full study published in Applied Developmental Science: Human-animal interaction as a context for thriving and coping in military-connected youth: The role of pets during deployment

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