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Many parents know that the best way for children to learn compassion and the importance of keeping commitments is by helping to care for a pet. Children learn from watching the adults in their lives. If a child can learn to treat an animal with respect they can take that lesson into later life. A cat can be a marvellous, loving companion for a child, but it is up to the adults in the family to ensure the cat and the kids live together happily ever after.
When you first bring a cat home, explain to your child that they will need to be patient, quiet and gentle to help the cat feel safe. Sit on the floor with your child and help him practice patience as the cat gets up the courage to come close. Let your child feed the cat a piece of food from his hand. If the cat is reluctant to come close, have your child gently toss a piece of food close to the cat. Once the cat realizes what your child is offering, the ice will melt.
Very young children can easily overwhelm a cat or kitten with their exuberance. Children under the age of five years should always be supervised when playing with or handling a cat. Children over 12 years can usually be trusted to be gentle, but be sure to occasionally check up on kids under 12 years when they spend concentrated time with the family cat.
You should remind children that they should not disturb a sleeping cat, or a cat that is using its litter tray.
Kittens appear to be amazingly flexible, and children often think nothing of draping a weeks-old cat over the crook of the arm and carrying it around like a toy, or picking up a kitten by the scruffof its neck. In this position, it is easy for the kitten to be dropped and seriously injured. Also, being carried like this leaves the cat feeling unsupported with it's hind legs swinging in space.
The best way to carry a kitten or cat is to place one hand or arm under its front legs, and support its hind legs with the other hand or arm. This gives the cat a secure feeling. Teach your children not to carry the cat from one place to another. Explain that for the cat's safety, they should always sit when they want to hold the cat, and should have their friends do the same.
Cats often have a mind of their own. Your child might feel like snuggling quietly at a time when your cat wants to play pounce. Impress on your children that if the cat ever struggles to get away, they should respect her wishes and let her go. A cornered cat will scratch and bite.
Encourage your children to exercise the cat by playing with appropriate toys. It is always tempting to play "catch my hand" with a kitten, because it is so amusing how fascinated they are with fingers. You should ensure that your children know the difference between playing and teasing your cat. If you teach a kitten that it is acceptable to swat and bite fingers, you'll wind up with an adult cat that regularly attacks you. Not exactly the kind of cuddly cat parents want for their children.
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