When I first brought home our new cat Boris almost three years ago, my kids were three and six years old. They were so excited they wanted to play with the new kitten all the time. And while the older one was more sensible and respectful, the toddler just couldn’t understand why pulling Boris’s tail or chasing him around the house and then poking him in the ribs was a bad idea. Boris responded by hiding under the table for the first couple of days until finally settling down in his own little sanctuary on the window ledge. From there, he watched the world outside and inside, ready to run at the first sight of his new friend.
Three years later, and the kids and Boris are the best of friends. It took some effort to get there, so here are a few tips to make the transition easier for your cat and your children.
First of all, be patient. Toddlers like to pat and stroke cats, but they tend to be rough and cats don’t enjoy that. So try to explain to your child that being very gentle will make the cat like them more. Shrieking and screaming scares cats – instead, reward your little ones for being calm around your cat.
The cats should be left alone when they are sleeping, eating or going to the toilet. Unfortunately, these are the exact times that kids would want to disturb the cat. It’s understandable – curiousity is, after all, a human trait. But make it clear to your kids that the cat needs her space. Find your own way of making the children understand that – I explained to my kids, for instance, that Boris would feel very sad if he couldn’t relax at home. It worked. Keep the cat’s food, drink and litter trays in a separate area, if possible.
Encourage them to play with the cat ‘hands-free’, using cat toys such as fish rods, balls etc. If they do touch the cat with their hands, teach them to wash their hands every time.
It might take longer than a few months for everyone to feel comfortable with the new cat and it may mean more work for you. But it is definitely worth it. Your kids will develop a sense of responsibility at a young age and will probably have some lovely memories of their pet when they grow up.