Are Your Young Visitors Inexperienced with Cats? Create Teaching Moments!
When my kids were very young, I began teaching them about the importance of respecting animals, as well as techniques for properly handling our cats. Our three kitties are members of our family, and we all need to know how to coexist peacefully and respect each other's space. I believe teaching our kids this kind of behavior early is critical in their becoming loving, responsible people who animals want to spend time with.
Unfortunately, not all adults realize this, and therefore, their kids improperly handle and scare animals, which can hurt them physically and emotionally. I sometimes feel frustrated by comments I receive on my Kids, Cats, Chaos! posts. Occasionally readers make sweeping generalizations that cats and kids absolutely do not mix. They even make horrible comments about all children being complete monsters with zero manners. This saddens me because there are both kids and adults who are educated in treating animals well, and some who are definitely not. There's no room for generalization. One of this column's goals is to reach out to adults and create awareness and practical tips for living peacefully in a home with both kids and cats. It is possible.
But what happens when your own kids are respectful to cats, but other children visiting your home are not? Or if you don't have human kids of your own, but sometimes host young visitors? This is an issue I've faced for many years. Kids are naturally attracted to animals, and I find that my cats are a focal point of visits from my kids' friends. My children are ages 15 and 17 now, so we don't run into as much trouble as we used to, but when they were younger, it was definitely troublesome, and even now when we have young visitors, it's top of mind.
Cats prefer calm interactions and obviously feel frightened when someone screams at them, chases them or grabs their bodies in ways that feel uncomfortable. What can you do to head off this behavior? In my experience, it's invaluable to have a conversation with all the children at the beginning of each visit. Believe me -- it's worth the time. Ask them if they have pets of their own and gently quiz them to gauge their level of experience with cat-handling. Express how important it is to talk softly, pet gently and do not chase your cats. Show them the proper way to handle kitties and demonstrate play with toys you know your cats enjoy. Instead of chastising them for how not to behave, show them how to behave with your cats.
As with anything, education is key. It's easy to complain about wrongdoing and make generalizations about people and situations. Nothing ever changes unless people become educated. This is true for simple animal handling and play techniques, all the way up to doing our part to control pet overpopulation by taking responsibility for spaying and neutering our pets.
Instead of complaining or allowing bad behavior to happen, and assuming all children are monsters, how about doing our part in teaching them? Even if their parents or guardians aren't doing a proper job of it, we can take the reins and make an impact. Who knows, maybe the child will go home and become the teacher for the adults in their lives.
So when wee visitors come calling, invest the time up front and create teaching moments. You won't only be making that particular visit more enjoyable for your cat, you'll be making an impression upon a child who, thanks to you, will have a much better chance at growing up to be a respectful, responsible friend to animals.
How do you handle young visitors who want to spend time with your cat? Tell us about it in the comments!
About the Author: Angie Bailey is an eternal optimist with an adoration of all things silly. Loves pre-adolescent boy humor, puns, making up parody songs, thinking about cats doing people things and The Smiths. Writes Catladyland, a cat humor blog, Texts from Mittens (birthed right here on Catster) and authored whiskerslist: the kitty classifieds, a silly book about cats wheeling and dealing online. Partner in a production company and writes and acts in a comedy web series that features sketches and mockumentaries. Mother to two humans and three cats, all of which want her to make them food.
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