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«Giving a dog or a cat to children helps them grow and be empathetic»- breaking latest news

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Of Clare Bidoli

According to the psychoanalyst, animals help little ones to enter into a relationship with their unconscious “I”, to be with others, to be and open to the world. A panacea for the whole family

Psyche and soma, mind and body, are united in a dialectical relationship where one cannot exist without the other, and together they constitute the most primitive form of mental life. It was first supported by the pediatrician and psychoanalyst Winnicott in his «Theory of emotional development», but then also neuroscience and studies ofinfant research which led to a change of approach in the understanding and care of the mind, giving the “body” a central role. It has gone from Talking cure at the Touching cure “Speak therapy has expanded by valuing – alongside verbal communications and interpretations – sensory, preverbal and extraverbal communications intertwined with the body,” he explains Sara Micotti, psychologist, psychoanalytic psychotherapist, scientific director of the Benedetta D’Intino Foundation. And in this process animals have a primary role, speak to our deepest self. «The relationship with them allows us to feel parts of ourselves that we would otherwise avoid or devalue. But not only that, it helps us to express sensations that arise from the body, basic needs for care, play, protection which, at times, are crushed by the pressure of rational thought», explains Micotti.

Know the emotions

Dog and cat help the child to get in touch with himself and lead him, between fantasy and reality, in a conscious way but also through dreams and stories, to understand and process emotions. “Animals have always been inevitable interlocutors in human history, they have shared our lives, represented threatening, mythical figures, they have served us and still serve us today to personify human characteristics, qualities and vices – he explains Massimo Ammaniti, professor of general and developmental psychopathology at La Sapienza in Rome, member of the World Association of Infant Mental Health -. The children live in an imaginary world populated by animals and other fantastic figures. Parents have a more realistic view of animals, linked to practical aspects. They fear that getting a dog and a cat is a difficult task to manage and so they prefer, alternatively, as company and gratification, to give their child a cell phone, but missing out on a great opportunity».

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Element of balance

In an increasingly anthropic world, where many hours of the day are dedicated to tablets and mobile phones, an animal becomes an element of balance for the whole family and sometimes even the opportunity to live experiences away from home. «Animals are a reassuring emotional presence that facilitates exchanges and physical contacts, stimulates care, empathy and a sense of protection. Children learn to take responsibility and to understand and respect the signals that come from other living beings. It has been seen, in fact, that the presence of animals at home favors the brain of the little ones the development of oxytocin, the hormone that intervenes in affective and attachment relationships», points out the expert. However, we need to see how the animal is introduced into the family. “Parents must help the child understand his needs – continues the psychoanalyst -. It is an experience of attention towards each other that will become fundamental in school and, in general, in relationships. There is also an important aspect that recomposes our union with nature: dogs and cats are living presences, who suffer separation, who rejoice at meetings, who communicate with us and show their emotions. They are a great educational opportunity to grow, not only in terms of understanding others, but also emotionally».


Animals as a bridge to the natural world, other living beings, but also our unconscious fantasies. «Dogs and cats personify the desires of children who attribute the ego ideal to the animal through known mechanisms, such as introjection processes. For the child they are also playmates, friends to confide in their difficulties, they can almost become a twin figureAmmaniti explains. And then there are dreams, of which animals are among the undisputed protagonists, especially in early childhood. «In one dream out of two, of a four-year-old child, an animal appears, a percentage that decreases with growth. The dreams of the little ones are the opening towards the internal world, towards the unconscious life and, in their manifest or latent content, they are connected to the deepest emotional currents and constitute a window on developmental processes. If elements of anxiety appear during the dream or there are nightmares, in which they often appear ferocious and menacing animalsis good, because it means that children highlight conflicts and fears», concludes the psychoanalyst.

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May 29, 2023 (change May 29, 2023 | 12:04)

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