Cats and kids... has a purer combination of words ever been uttered? But let's face it: cats can be pointy and kids can be pushy. Despite this, it's fair to say that keeping a cat teaches a child a lot of important things, like patience and kindness, and offers a whole host of other benefits. So, considering how great a kitty can be for your kiddy, it's a good idea to take the time to teach both of your favorite little creatures how to play respectfully. That way, you can have a happy, love-filled household for years to come!
Why It's Important to Teach Respectful Play
When you mingle cats and kids, you'll find yourself faced with two strong personalities – felines with their stubborn sassiness, and kids with their... well, stubborn sassiness. That said, the main benefit of cementing a sense of respect is household harmony. You are also instilling in both parties several marvelous qualities that will transcend this delicate period of their lives – qualities like courtesy, gentleness, and kindness.
It's important to note that both cats and kids – especially in their early days – are physical creatures. Children explore and learn about the world with all of their senses, but especially with touch. Furthermore, early on, they tend to be unaware of their limits and their own physical strength. Cats, on the other hand, are hunters, and their play tends to reflect that natural urge. All that said, you have to remember that cats – and kittens especially – are fragile creatures. They are tough little critters, but physically, their bodies can only withstand so much. What that means is that, unfortunately, an especially strong or persistent child can hurt the delicate little body of a cat.
Furthermore, a cat will only tolerate so much. The result is that an exploring toddler can become a cause of irritation, which means that without knowing the rules, a kid can get himself hurt. Unfortunately, this is one of the major reasons cats and kittens wind up in shelters. If, though, you teach both your child and your kitty to play nicely, then you reduce the chances of anyone getting hurt or re-homed.
One Small Caveat
Of course, there are some instances where a child and a cat simply will not get along. For instance, if you have an elderly feline who cannot tolerate the high energy of his young human, then you may not be able to bridge the gap. That's all right, though. In most cases, so long as you show your child how to interact in a kind, gentle way towards his furry old friend – and also teach him when to leave the cat alone – everyone can still live in a happy, peaceful manner.
Tips for Teaching Cats and Kids to Play Nice
Tip One: Teach by Example
When it comes to teaching the importance of respectful play, your best bet is to start with your child. Often times, if you leave a cat alone, he'll leave you alone as well. So by starting the education on the human side, things may very well go a little smoother. For this step, one of the most important things you can do is show your kid the proper way to handle the household kitty. We all do it – even us adults. We see those ridiculously adorable little balls of fluff, and we can't help ourselves... we start pawing and petting. Unfortunately, this isn't always the best way to approach our feline friends. So when your child begins reaching heedlessly for a tail or an ear, gently stop him in his tracks, and show him the proper, careful way to pet.
In addition to correcting overenthusiastic petting, you will also want to show your child how to hold his kitty. As far as holding goes, I would discourage this altogether until your child is old enough and strong enough to keep kitty steady. When he is, show him how to support your cat's legs, how to hold him close without crushing him, and how to carefully let go when your cat decides he's ready to be free. It's also a good idea to show your child the right and wrong ways to play. Explain that playing with fingers, toes, and limbs is off limits. Show him how to use cat toys in a safe, proper way, and let him know that any unnecessary chasing should be avoided, lest he scare his fuzzy pal.
Tip Two: Don't Punish Your Cat for Reacting
It happens all the time... a small child doesn't know how to interact with his kitten, the kitten gets agitated and scratches him, then kitty ends up in a shelter. It's a sad cycle that can absolutely be avoided. One thing many folks forget is that a cat is an animal, and animals react more on instinct than reason. What that means is that if your feline feels threatened, he's likely to lash out. That said, if your kid doesn't know or simply ignores the rules for proper pet handling, do not punish your cat for his natural reaction. If, however, your cat strikes without cause, then it's time to correct kitty's behavior – namely through redirection via play.
Actually, if you find either your cat or your kid behaving inappropriately, you can use it as a learning opportunity. If, for instance, your cat can't stop hissing at the toddler – totally unprovoked – it's a good idea to show your little one what it looks like when your cat is irritated, and why it's important to leave kitty be. If your kitten is especially frisky, now is the time to show your child the best ways to help his little ball of fluff burn off the excess energy. On the other hand, if your cat is losing his patience because your kid is a little overenthusiastic with his affections, take a moment to let him know why his actions need to be adjusted, and why your feline needs some space. No matter who instigated the event, though, it's essential that you both supervise and grab at the opportunity to educate everyone involved.
Tip Three: Create a Safe Environment to Help De-Stress Tense Situations
By this point, your kid will likely have a better idea of your cat's personality, his personal limits, and his likes and dislikes, so now is a good time to get him involved in kitty's personal care. One of the best ways to help your furry little friend feel safe is to offer him lots of high perches for escape, and enclosed spaces to hide. When it comes to setting up these spots, getting your child involved will not only provide him a sense of involvement and pride, it will also reinforce the idea that your sensitive little feline does need his personal space. The upshot of all of this is that your darling cat will generally be more at ease, and your kid will have developed a whole new sense of respect.
In addition to instilling a sense of pride in your child, these projects also make for good learning opportunities. As you show your kid what these pieces of cat furniture are for, you can also let him know that if his kitty is tucked away in his bed or resting up in his tree, then it's best to just leave him be. If your cat runs to his perch during a particularly high-energy game, then let your child know that he should allow kitty time to rest. This is also a good way to introduce him to the different ways to play. For example, show him how to safely string a teaser wand across perches, through tunnels, etc.
Tip Four: Encourage Appropriate Play
Since we're on the subject of appropriate play, let's talk about things that both your kid and your kitty should avoid. Some cats – and especially kittens – cannot help themselves when it comes to wiggling fingers. Some kids, on the other hand, cannot help but wiggle their fingers at excitable, hunting kittens. We have talked about this time and time again, though, so it goes without saying that this simply will not do in the long term, otherwise you and your family run the risk becoming prey. This one is pretty simple to remedy: when you catch either party indulging in this form of play, simply offer a more appropriate toy.
Next, it's important to let your child know that roughhousing isn't necessarily suitable for kitties. Although cats and kids may love a good wrestling match, the game is best played with the assistance of a kicker toy. Furthermore, if your child is used to frolicking with a dog, it's important to teach him that the two critters play differently. That said, if your little one tends to chase, poke, or otherwise harass his feline buddy, you will need to stop him in his tracks and remind him that cats simply don't play that way. If he persists, you may need to punish him. I know it sounds harsh, but a time out is definitely less painful than a cat bite.
Tip Five: Introduce Age Appropriate Toys
Little kids have little hands, and less control over them to boot. That said, your tiny person may not be able to use every cat toy in the box. However, no matter his age, showing him how to use these toys can help in your quest to foster respectful play. If you're working with a toddler, then you might just want to let him watch as you drive your kitty crazy with a laser toy or go feline fishing with a teaser. As he gets older, though, you can show him all of the toys, as well as how to use them. Once he's familiar with everything and everyone feels comfortable, go ahead and let your child handle the toys and offer them to his cat friend.
No matter his age, be sure to supervise playtime at all times. Only allow your kid to play with toys he can handle. For instance, a ten-year-old may do better with a teaser wand than, say, a three-year-old – after all... those toys are sharp, pointy, and ripe for eye poking. Also be mindful of any playthings with strings, ropes, or small pieces, as these materials can be problematic for smaller children and their furry friends. Just use your best judgment, rein in any aggressive play, and keep an eye on things.
Cats and kids can be absolutely delightful, and together... how can you even stand it! But all that adorable magic doesn't always happen on its own – sometimes you have to guide it to ensure that everyone stays safe. Hopefully you have found some useful tips in this article, and now tell us... what do you do to keep playtime respectful?
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