The Value of Pets For Your Sensitive Child

A special connection

Dr. Elaine Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Child says – because of their strong empathy and emotional responsiveness – Highly Sensitive People often enjoy a special connection with animals.

“HSPs speak of having a special relationship with one domesticated species-dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, potbellied pigs – or with their own particular companion animal,” says Aron. “Being sensitive to the animals around us can benefit them – not just their physical well being but their mental health, too. And it benefits us by connecting us with individuals who are generally sensitive, subtle, discriminating, and loyal to their friends – like most of us.”

Certain animals are particularly easy to connect with. There is a fair amount of research around horses and their special connection to humans. The emotional responsiveness of horses seems to help people feel understood.

“What we’ve found is that horses can not only read human facial expressions,” says Karen McComb, professor of animal behaviour at the University of Sussex, “but they can also remember a person’s previous emotional state when they meet them later that day – and, crucially, that they adapt their behaviour accordingly.”

Dogs also have a special connection with humans. In one study it was found that gazing into your pet dogs eyes produced the same feelings of love, and same brain hormones, as feeling love for a human.

Highly Sensitive Children who love animals can find a lot of comfort and support in a world that is often a bit overwhelming. Some things are just better talked out with your pet!

Highly Sensitive Children who love animals can find a lot of comfort and support in a world that is often a bit overwhelming. Some things are just better talked out with your pet!

When you can’t get a pet

I understand though that many living situations make pet ownership difficult. Luckily, there are other ways to include animals in your children’s world. For a whole year my daughters and I volunteered as SPCA kitten cuddlers. It’s a real job!

For an hour or two each week we spent time patting and cuddling cats and kittens to socialise them, preparing them for their new families. It was great for the cats – some of which came in fairly wild – but had many benefits for my children too.

Having had a bad experience with Grandma’s cat, both my girls had learnt to fear them. After a few weeks at the SPCA their fear of cats was completely replaced by compassion.

In fact, as Highly Sensitive People tend to notice subtleties and tune in to others – including animals – my girls ended up being given the job of handling the very wild, difficult cats. They developed a very gentle approach with these terrified animals and quickly learnt to observe the cats’ signals. The volunteering experience led to us adopting two cats of our own, who we adore.

Dog walking, wild (safe) animals, the pet store, the zoo and other people’s pets can all be alternative sources of animal contact. Or perhaps you could get your kids a snail?  

Originally published HERE.

Kelly Eden is a solo mum of three lovely daughters, living on the beautiful West Coast of New Zealand. She has a teaching background and specialises in Childhood disorders and intervention. As a parenting writer for national magazines in New Zealand for many years, Kelly loves helping parents feel empowered with skills and knowledge to parent more purposefully. For more practical and thought-provoking parenting ideas check out her blog at

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