A swipe of a paw or pull of a tail can set a bad tone between your children and their new friend. Here are a few tips for introducing your kitty to your kids that will help make the transition for the newest addition to your family stress-free.
Sure, your new kitty will be furry and cute and oh-so-cuddly, but it’s also a living, breathing being and not a stuffed teddy bear. That’s why it’s important to lay out some ground rules ahead of time. The rules established need to go both ways: A set of rules for the kitty and another set for the kids. For example, even before the kitty sets foot in his new home, you should choose the areas where he will be allowed (and not allowed) to roam.
As for your children, their rules need to be crystal clear, too. Allow only one child to feed the kitty, so it doesn’t get overfed. Set parameters for children on when and how to play with the kitty and how to pick him up. Make sure they know that it’s not okay to tug and pull on their new friend’s tail, whiskers or any other part of his body. And especially with boys – help them understand that wrestling with the kitty is definitely an absolute no-no.
It goes without saying that each of your kids will want to be in charge of certain aspects of caring for the kitty. In fact, they might even become territorial over their roles. If your children are old enough – at least 6 years old – it’s okay for them to have cat-related duties of their own. For example, one child could be responsible for making sure that the kitten has fresh food and water every day, while another ensures its bedding is clean and that its toys are always available.
One note of caution, though: Leave the task of cleaning your kitten’s litter box to adults only, since animal feces sometimes has intestinal parasites like roundworms, hookworms and whipworms that can be dangerous for people. Sometimes, children forget to wash their hands thoroughly, and litter-box cleaning definitely calls for regular hand-washing.
Your new kitty will need time to really get comfortable with their new surroundings – especially when they’re coming from a shelter to a house or apartment. Your children are going to be excited and ready to play with them as soon as you take kitty out of his carrier. But this is where you should tap the breaks.
Your kitty won’t be as stressed out if it has the opportunity to get to know his new surroundings – and his new family – slowly. Don’t be alarmed if the kitty spends its first few days hiding under the bed. Remind your children that the animal’s behavior isn’t related to anything they did; their new companion just needs time to get comfortable in its new surroundings.
Take the first few weeks to introduce the kitten to your children at a snail’s pace. Let your kitty and your kids spend short periods of time together initially to make sure they adjust well to one another. You’ve done all the steps: read the kitten care books, laid down the rules, divided up duties and gradually made your new kitten a part of your household. It might already seem like your new kitty has been around forever. But even if you consider him an honorary member of the family, that doesn’t mean your kids should be left alone with him right away.
One reason for this is that cats can sometimes play rough. Scratching and biting during play is how they inter-acted with their kitten siblings, so they may be apt to do the same with your children. They need to learn how to play nice. And they’re not the only ones. As mentioned earlier, human kids may need plenty of ground rules and reminders to be gentle when handling cats as well.
A child’s age should be taken into consideration when determining if he or she can be left unsupervised with animals in your home. As a rule, most young children under 5 or 6 years old shouldn’t be alone with a new kitten, and older kids need to establish a track record and prove they know how to be gentle. Until then, your safest bet is to make sure there’s an adult around when cats and kids interact. With time and guidance, your children and their new kitty will develop a wonderful bond.