Why Are Kids So Crazy About Animals?

Yeah, zoos are fun. So are cartoons. And I certainly see the appeal of a teddy bear.

But why are kids so over-the-top crazy about animals? I am especially struck by the fact that some of the most popular cartoon and children’s-book animals are among the least appealing animals in real life. Mice, for instance. And pigs and rats and bears and fish.

Here’s what I read the other day in the class newsletter my daughter brought home from kindergarten:

Post Office Money Update: After a vote among all four K classes about how to spend this money, “Animals” received the most votes. (Other choices were Kids, Grown-Ups, and the Earth.) Please let us know if you are aware of any reputable organizations which are devoted to animals.

I wouldn’t expect kids to want to give any of their money to grown-ups. And while kids may be helping to drive awareness of climate change, “the Earth” is a pretty amorphous target.

But I have to say that I am constantly surprised by how devoted kids are to animals, even if that devotion doesn’t seem to last into adulthood for most of us. (See, for instance, the dearth of interest in animals in this philanthropy bleg.)

Can anyone explain it?

I have a few rough thoughts:

1. Animals are simply cute and cuddly — at least in the abstract, and in cartoons.

2. Animals seem vulnerable, and kids want to take care of them — or, conversely:

3. Animals seem vulnerable, and kids want to control them.

4. Animals are a sort of proxy for kids in that kids are relatively powerless compared to adults whereas animals are relatively powerless compared to people.


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  1. Lenny Timons says:

    If I recall my toddler years correctly, it was the fact that they did the things we do (walk, eat, sleep, etc.) but did them in a way that looked so different it was entertaining. I say this because currently I’m not interested in animals much at all, but really enjoyed them as a child.

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  2. Luis says:

    I think we are all fascinated with animals. Mainly because it makes us wonder about our lives compared to them. For instance, nobody knows what goes on inside of a animal’s mind. Everyone seems to get into deep thought when watching the animal planet. I think kids are just fascinated with animals like adults, but we as adults have come to accept animals as part of everyday life.

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  3. Ivan says:

    I think it’s about taking the definition of ‘toy’ to another level. Barbie dolls and Legos can be fun to play with for a kid, but they loose, hands down, to a pet animal.

    A pet can be very interactive, especially cats and dogs, it can have a ‘personality’ and is unique as in none of the child’s peers will have the same exact pet. A regular toy cannot even come close to boasting such an impressive set of characteristics; hence I feel that for a child, a pet is the ultimate toy.

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  4. Faye says:

    I don’t think it’s less of a power trip thing, more of a curiosity about the animal’s experience as compared to the child’s.

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  5. Tim Lehane says:

    Pigs are actually very sweet, funny, kind and intelligent (the most intelligent of all farm animals, smarter than dogs, and at about the same level of intelligence as a three year old child). So have a little more respect about them little oinkers, they deserve it.

    You’re right about rats/mice though. From Pikachu to Mickey, the most popular ones are always rodents.

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  6. Charles D says:

    I completely agree, I was extremely fascinated with animals as a kid. In 1st and 2nd grade I’d always read about snakes and lizards and my favorite stuffed animal was my ‘beather’ because I couldn’t pronounce ‘beaver.’

    I think I was curious about animals and their display of what would be superpowers to a human. I’d go with ‘the grass is always greener’ theory here. Beavers were really cool to me because they could build dams and I’d never actually seen one. Snakes had all sorts of interesting characteristics that I liked.

    Growing up those mysteries are solved and you learn how things work. It is like seeing how the magician did the trick. Plus you develop a sense of mortality and fear so that cool poisonous snake is now a threat to your life.

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  7. Elaine says:

    As a kid, I didn’t have the communication skills or conversational complexity to fully relate to adults. Animals don’t, either. Therefore, I think kids may see animals as peers, of a sort. That may become less true for some people as they age and adult complexity draws them away from animal consciousness. I think the writings of Temple Grandin may help explain this further for you.

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  8. Frank says:

    Animals are unconsciously perceived as safe, as they can be abstract replacements for humans — they can sport all the good aspects of humans (e.g. a face, a personality, etc), without actually being a scary human (e.g. a stranger).

    This is one of the reasons why therapists working with abused children use animal dolls and illustrations in their work.

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