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Dear Pammy, How do I choose a cat for children?

Discover more about Dear Pammy, How do I choose a cat for children?.

A commenter asks:

Do you have any tips for choosing cats that will do better with children?

(more at the link)

Dear Readers,

Excellent questions. I handled this inquiry privately, but felt the answers could help more parents when it came to how their child might contribute to the choice of cat.

Edumacating an forming yung mindz iz like twying tu mold a soap bubbul. (image shows a closeup of a tabby and white cat face, with a wide-eyed look of bafflement and dismay)

Each family can have different needs, and be drawn to different cats. In addition, there’s a difference between a child who wants a new pet to be “their cat,” and a cat who is going to be considered a family cat. A child’s wish for companionship makes it even more important that we choose for compatibility, so that their wishes are more likely to come true.

relative ages

There’s a certain point where a child’s age works best when it is the inverse of a cat’s age. This is because toddlers are inevitably Cat Kryptonite.

Cats of any age tend to have trouble with the sudden shrieks and unpredictable abrupt movements that are human toddlers. In turn, toddlers are great when coached into proper ways to “pet the kitty,” but their own small attention span means they can lose track of the plot very quickly. The toddler need for supervision goes double when cats are involved, especially the small and vulnerable kitten or the wary and defensive rescued cat, neither of whom have the experience of knowing the toddler didn’t mean to startle them or clutch too hard.

The more immature the child, the more likely they are to do well with a cat who has more maturity and experience. Such cats can pick up and interpret signals from the child. They know when they are being paid proper attention, and how to make themselves scarce when the games get overwhelming. I’ve had cats who submitted to extravagant hugging, wearing hats, and loud voices by their head… knowing that when the toddler went home, there would be special treats and fussing for them as a result. These were all my adult, mellow, Beta cats.

Cat Type is especially important for this age of child. Gammas get easily overwhelmed, while Alphas appreciate the play but are often cranked too high to keep from over-reacting to some of the things the toddler likes to do. One important quality for cats who handle toddlers is the capacity of forgiveness; some cats grasp the random nature of what this age of child tends to do, and won’t take it personally if they find the child is getting out of bounds. They will find a child-free space, which should always be provided, and come back when things have calmed down.

Younger than toddler is actually a fine age to first meet cats. While there is still the random moves and sounds, and the iron grip many babies have, a lot of cats understand “baby” and will learn and grow along with the child.

As the child approaches school age and has a better grasp of controlling themselves, they can develop more understanding of the ways kitties like affection and play, and will have an increased ability to give and receive it in ways a cat will understand. This will broaden the range of appropriate cats to choose from. They can also be trusted to provide more cat care, though parents will have to be backup, as with any pet.

interest matching

Children themselves have a range of personality that will be an important part of cat choosing. A quiet and reserved child can be drawn to a Gamma in the spirit of understanding. An active child will appreciate the running around they share with an Alpha. Beta cats can always be relied upon to want to hang around and observe their child, whether they are doing homework or enjoying a game.

In any case, we should make a point of creating “cat spots” in the child’s room or anywhere else they spend time. Wherever the family enjoys video entertainment is a great time and place to let the child fuss over the cat’s spot.

Lapsitting can be difficult when it comes to a child’s typical activity level and span of attention. We might need to let the child know that kitty is happier resting in their spot, available for petting. We should explain that cats are sensitive to the signals we give off, and can leave our lap sooner than we want them to.

Children exploring the possibilities of cats in shelters have a great advantage in that the best prospects are cats who willingly approach them. This indicates a cat with a sense of territory, and thus confidence, from their spot in the shelter, indicating they can feel comfortable with the child. Remind the children that we are visitors in the cats’ home, and need to be on our best behavior, so the cats will think well of us.

In such a welcoming atmosphere, we can evaluate the equally important ways the children and cats interact. Appreciate the child who shows empathy about the cat who hangs back, or is captivated by the antics of the clown cat with a lot of Alpha. Explain that these are cats expressing their own personality, and this will be unlikely to change.

All too often, the Gamma is chosen because someone wants to “bring them out of their shell,” and an Alpha is chosen with a lack of realization that they don’t “calm down with age.” Children are just as likely to fall for these cat-choosing fallacies as adults are.

expand the civilization

If we already have cats this gives us a giant helping hand. Our children are already familiar with cat concepts, and by building a Cat Civilization we have access to the instructional abilities of our present cats. We might have an additional challenge in choosing a second or third cat, but we can always rely on the magic of Cat Social Units, too.

In the end, cat choosing with children is based on the same guidelines adults should use. Children need a little more explaining and supervision, but they will also feel the pull of connection.

This gives us an opportunity to explain “the cat rules” to our children, which offer many wonderful principles every child needs to know. The importance of expressing our true personality, the vital role of sharing, and how politeness puts everyone at ease are just a few of the great lessons cats can teach. Juggling all these, possibly competing, impulses and feelings are part of the task of growing up.

Always, we have the satisfaction of building the Cat Appreciators of the future.

    Discover more about Cats and Small Children.

    Find out more with a visit to my page on How to Choose the Right Cat.





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