“Dear Kitten,” a viral video making the Internet rounds, features an older, wiser cat begrudgingly teaching the new kitten the ways of the world. Hilarious and oddly believable, some of the video is spot on, including how the “human larva … can be a bit grabby.” Although I don’t tend to refer to my child as a “human larva,” she IS a bit grabby, especially with kitty cat tails. Here’s what we’re doing to curb this behavior before it becomes a bad habit.
When Toby was a kitten, I taught him “soft paws,” a trick I picked up from Pam Johnson-Bennett, CCBC, the star of Psycho Kitty. Kittens are curious, playful creatures, and your moving fingers, toes, and legs are all major targets. When a kitten grabs you with their claws, lean in to their grasp. Prey pulls away, so if you pull away, you’re continuing the “game.” When you lean in, kitty gets bored and eventually learns not to grab you with claws. Clearly, this only works with consistency and much repetition, but it’s super important for your cat to know that grabbing you with claws is NOT acceptable. Your appendages and your guests will thank you.
So what do soft paws have to do with babies? Everything! Babies are much like kittens ÔÇô- curious, playful, and eager to explore the world. Kitty fur is soft and that twitching tail is so tempting to grab! Babies first learn to grab things with a “raking grasp,” meaning they curl their fingers inward and pull the object towards them. Later, they learn to pinch things between their fingers to hold them, but both of these methods equals grabby and uncomfortable for a cat.
When we have kitty/baby play time, I carefully monitor their interactions. When Willow Bean reaches for Toby, I encourage her to pet him gently. As soon as I see those little fingers beginning to bury themselves in fur for a good handhold, I open her palm and stroke Toby’s fur with it. I tell her, “Open palm, gentle touch, happy kitty.” I then take my own hand and gently rub Toby’s head, behind his ears, and along his back as she watches me. When she goes for that irresistible twitchy tail, I move her hand and tell her “no,” then place her open palm back on Toby’s side, and we repeat the open-handed petting, all the while praising them both for their patience and good behavior.
She’s only six months old, so you might think me silly for trying to teach her how to be gentle with animals so early, but I believe that a good foundation starts from day one. Some people think it’s cute when they see children hauling their pet kitties around by the neck, pulling their tails, or tugging at their ears, but I think it’s setting the children and the cats up for failure. Even the mildest-tempered cat may strike out with claws (or teeth!) if they are harassed enough or hurt, and that means that cat may end up in a shelter or much worse.
Remember, our children are the pet owners and advocates of the future. When we teach them love and respect from an early age, they hold those values within themselves for life. An added bonus? They’ll have a wonderful relationship with their childhood cat, making some precious memories for the future.
Have you ever had a baby and a kitty at the same time? How did they interact? Let us know in the comments.
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About Meghan Lodge:: Fits the Aquarius definition to a fault, loves animals, and is always pushing for change. Loves ink, whether it’s in tattoos, books, or writing on that pretty sheet of blank paper. Proud parent of Toby (cat) and Axle (dog). I’m a former quiet nerd who’s turned bubbly animal-obsessed advocate.