Having a cat can make a big difference in a child’s life. Cats make terrific best friends. I’ve studied child development and spent countless hours teaching children. It still amazes me at what good teachers cats can be. Some very important lessons for kids can be taught by our furry friends.
Cuddles, a cute and fluffy Ragdoll mix, was the first pet my niece, Grace, ever knew. It was love at first sight. As many young children do, Grace would grab at Cuddles, pulling his ears, tail and long Ragdoll fur. Any time she saw him, she would chase after him making loud noises. Luckily, Cuddles was already well into adulthood before Grace was ever born, so he was very patient with her. Cuddles would hide when he wanted alone time and move away from her when her actions annoyed him.
What did Grace learn from this? If she wants to interact with the cat, she can’t annoy him. In a way, cats can train us the same way we train them. He taught her how he wanted to be treated by moving away when she did something wrong. He stayed and interacted with her when she was doing pleasant things, which made her want to do the pleasant things more.
The lessons above are only the first social skills a child could learn. Throughout the process of growing up, children can learn about personal space and not hurting others as well as sharing, communicating, taking turns, following rules, and trust.
Quick child development lesson: It takes a few years before kids gain full small motor function in their hands. As babies, we can only open and close our hands (make fists). Being able to move individual fingers comes a bit later. The next step will be to develop something known as the pincer grasp, where objects can be gripped between the thumb and the forefinger or middle finger. Finally we begin to form a tripod grasp, which lets us do things such as hold a pencil.
The desire to pet a cat can help speed up and solidify the development of those small motor skills. As seen in first lesson above, the cat can teach the child that he or she must be nice in order to interact. Parents who are present at the time will probably correct the child too. A baby or young toddler might first try to pet a cat with a closed fist (essentially punching the cat), but the child will quickly learn that this is wrong. The child will then begin concentrating on moving more slowly and with an open hand, like Mom showed them to do. These attempts accelerate the process of development.
Gross motor skills can be helped by cats too. Playtime with a cat can help with walking, running, crawling, squatting, jumping, and more. Even coordination gets a workout when you have a cat because you sometimes must walk and carry something in your arms at the same time.
Kids can help take care of their cats and learn what it means to be responsible. Even young kids can help feed or groom the family cat. The more tasks they take on, the more cats will bond with them. They will get to see in a very tangible way that their actions affect others. Being responsible can result in healthy, loving cats. However, if they neglect their responsibilities, there will be negative consequences.
In my opinion, this is one of the hardest lessons that a human being ever learns — living things can die. Grace learned this lesson around age 6. Cuddles had gotten out of the condo and passed away in a swampy area nearby. We’re not sure how he got out or what might have caused his death. Grace had never had a real experience with death before. My sister had the difficult job of explaining to Grace that no one lives forever. It wasn’t easy for Grace to understand how this could have happened to Cuddles.
The heartbreak from Cuddles’ death was crushing, but it taught a very important lesson. Life is precious. Love all you can, while you can. Sometimes being sorry doesn’t change anything. Bad things can happen even when you don’t think you did anything wrong. You have to be very careful with living things because they are all more fragile than they appear. Grace will be very thankful Cuddles taught her this lesson while she was young because it gives her the opportunity to grow in compassion from that point forward.
Kids want to learn all about their favorite animals. These interests are helpful for teaching them all different subject areas. If you love cats, you can explore science through topics such as cat biology, cat health, cat psychology, and the physics of the way of a cat moves. Other subjects include cats in history, cats in art, and cats in literature.
One of the most important lessons for kids to learn from cats is that it is okay to be different. You can have great compassion for someone who is very different from you. Cats can teach kids to find the similarities between themselves and others more easily too.
Do you think there are other lessons that cats can teach kids? Let us know in the comments.
About the author: Robin Mudge lives in the Metro Detroit area with her husband and two cats: Cinco and Manna. She writes articles covering a large variety of feline-oriented topics on her blog Playful Kitty. Her background education background is in Special Education (focusing on cognitive impairments) and in Theater. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Google+.