Wouldn’t it be nice if we developed strong, healthy bonds with every member of our family? Stop laughing — it could happen. Maybe.
Cats are definitely family members and, like with human relationships, personalities come into play. Sometimes it takes some thought and patience to cultivate a connection. And when kids are involved, multiply that patience by about 500.
When my kids were babies, we shared our home with an adult cat and, honestly, there wasn’t much interaction. He passed away when the kids were toddler-aged, and soon after we adopted an older kitten named Fritz. He was a friendly little guy, and of course the kids wanted to spend every waking moment with him. Because they were so young, we had to take some extra precautions to make sure Fritz stayed safe and didn’t become love-smothered by grabby little hands and shrill, squealy voices. We handled the situation fairly well, but I wish we would have known then what we know now, because it could have gone even more smoothly.
Here are six ways to help your child and cat develop a loving bond.
1. Kitty-cat voice
Many young children are loud talkers. Whether they’re expressing pure joy and excitement or throwing a toddler tantrum, they’re not always aware of their voice volume. And sometimes they are and they just want to make a point, right? I remember constantly reminding my kids, “Please use your inside voice.” Please note that I tried super hard not to sound like that awful goody-goody Calliou’s mom from the cartoon. Nothing fazes that woman — she must be fully stocked on “Mommy’s little helpers.”
It might be helpful for your child to create another type of voice that’s used just for kitty — just a little softer than the inside voice. Maybe “super inside-voice” or “kitty-cat voice.” This is particularly helpful when the child is making initial contact with the cat. Like humans, cats have unique personalities. A shy cat may require extended kitty-cat communication, whereas a more outgoing feline might adjust easily to normal inside voices. Either way, a small child’s “outside voice” will scare kitty, and you’ll be a step backwards in creating that bond.
2. Handle with care
Kids are used to playing with stuffed animals and, without proper guidance, will probably handle real kitties in the same manner. Start out by having your child hold one finger out for the cat to sniff. If kitty wants to connect, she’ll rub the finger. This is a good sign to scratch or rub the cat’s head and back.
Most cats don’t like their stomachs touched, so remind your child to avoid that sensitive area. Cats don’t like to be held for long periods of time … some don’t like to be held at all. If a cat does allow you to pick her up, hold her close to your body and always support her bottom and chest area. If at any time the cat hisses, that’s a signal that she’s not happy and it’s best to back away. Forcing a cat into an uneasy situation could mean bites, scratches, and tears. This is not the way to forge a friendship. Help your child to read feline body language.
3. Establish special rituals
Creating rituals and routines that are unique to your child and cat will definitely speed up the bonding process. Perhaps choose a special treat that only your child will dispense. Or maybe find a fun toy that is reserved for kitty-kid playtime. Every time the cat shares a positive experience with a child, their relationship deepens and trust is built.
4. Reward kitty
If the cat is skittish, it could be a good idea to reward her each time she favorably responds to your child. This may motivate her to continue the behavior. The reward can be a treat or simply affirming language and petting.
5. Consider ages of children and cats
American Humane Association recommends that homes with children choose adult cats. They go on to say that cats over the age of two or three are best for kids under five or six. Older cats are obviously bigger and less likely to get hurt by over-handling. If you’d like to create a lasting bond, make sure the kids and cats are a good match.
6. Don’t forget to supervise!
During the first “getting to know you” sessions, it’s important to supervise the activities. Depending on the age and demeanor of the cat and child, you may need to regularly supervise playtime. By keeping an eye on the kitty-kid exchanges, you’ll be able to catch both good and bad behavior and respond immediately.
Do you have any tips for helping develop the child-cat bond? Tell us about it in the comments!
About the Author: Angie Bailey is a weird girl with freckles and giant smile who wants everyone to be her friend. Loves pre-adolescent boy humor, puns, making up parody songs, and thinking about cats doing people things. Wrote a ridiculous humor book about cats wheeling and dealing online. Partner in a production company and writes and acts in comedy web series that may or may not offend people. Mother to two humans and three cats, all of which want her to make them food.
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