Cats and children may not seem like the perfect pair, but you can teach your kids good playtime behaviors and help them bond with their furry sibling. Although all cats need alone time every day, (and some need a lot more than others), cats enjoy playtime as well. In order to make playtime enjoyable for your kitty and your little ones, start out on a good paw from day one by creating joint playtime and individual playtime, for your children and your cat. By giving each of them time with you and time with each other, you can create a peaceful environment for everyone.
Practice What You Preach
Playing with your cat is key to keeping her healthy. However, if you have young ones wandering the house, you may find playing with your cat becomes a little more difficult. The first thing to remember is to model positive playtime with your cat in front of your children. Kids mimic behaviors, good and bad, so be sure to model nice soft touches and slower movements. Help your children mimic these positive behaviors, and give positive reinforcement to both your cat and your kids during their calm interactions.
In a purrfect world, playtime always goes smoothly, but that's not always the case. Cats can get irritated quickly and retaliate if provoked. One way to tell if a cat is irritated, before she hisses or swats, is to watch for body language cues. A cat usually has her ears in a forward position when content or alert, but if the ears flatten or move back, she is beginning to become agitated or scared. If any of her fur (especially on her tail) becomes bushed out, or if she tucks her tail under her, it may be time to move away and let her be alone for a little while. If you see your cat's body language changing, it is best for everyone to move to another area, preferably where the cat can't be seen anymore. You may want to distract your kids with another activity. Give your cat some alone time and then try playtime again later, with you modeling nice play before allowing your children to touch the cat.
Children also have a tendency to want to pick up the cats and carry them everywhere. Cats are very independent creatures and don't always love being chauffeured around in your kid's arms, so make sure your cat is relaxed if you allow your children to pick her up. If she nuzzles in and purrs, she likely enjoys the close contact, but if she squirms to get out, it is probably best to let her down.
If you find you are having more stressful play sessions than peaceful ones, observe if your cat is more loving and playful at certain times of the day. It is also best to do playtime when your children are well-rested and fed. Hungry, tired babies don't make the best playmates for cats or humans!
Create a Bond that Lasts at Least Nine Lives
Creating a bond with any animal doesn't happen overnight. Try to encourage simply sitting and petting the cat for several minutes, and not just active play. When you do have active play, choose activities that allow some distance between your children and the cat to avoid accidental scratches. For example, use long stick and large ball toys, and avoid small toys that your children could easily put into their own mouth. Another great and inexpensive toy that cats and kids love is a plain old, cardboard box. Allow your cat to go in the box on her own, and you may find your kids and cat playing peek-a-boo and having fun before you know it. To keep the bond going strong, monitor your children and your cat during playtime, and encourage them when they demonstrate positive behaviors.
After much modeling and patience, you will find that your kids play nicely with your cat and avoid upsetting her. You may also find that your cat yearns for playtime with your little ones. The bond between cats and children is an amazing thing that can be cherished well into the teenage years and beyond, so enjoy every minute of it!
Chrissie Klinger is a pet parent that enjoys sharing her home with her furkids, two of her own children and her husband. Chrissie enjoys spending time with all her family members when she is not teaching, writing or blogging. She strives to write articles that help pet owners live a more active and meaningful life with their pets.