From experiencing the simple joys of unconditional love, to learning the responsibilities of caring for another living thing, having a cat or dog as a child offers a lifetime of happy memories and valuable lessons. Of course, like any siblings, kids and pets must be taught to respect each other’s boundaries. Whether you had a dog or cat before you had kids or you recently adopted a fur baby to provide your child with companionship, it’s your job as the parent to ensure the safety of your kids and the happiness of your pets.
1. When it comes to teaching kids to love and respect animals, there’s no such thing as “too early” or “too often”
No matter how old your children are, it’s essential that you learn the magic word for keeping the peace between your kids and your pets: GENTLE.
Say the word “gentle” out loud in a calm, assuring tone as you’re guiding your child’s hand across your dog or cat’s back so both your child and your pet associate the word with kindness. Use “gentle” as a correction when your child gets overzealous with his affection or starts to poke or pull on your pet in ways that will cause fear or stress. No matter how many times you have to say it or often your child or your pet resists, be sure to maintain the same calm, deliberate and soothing tone when saying the word “gentle”. It may take years, but eventually, both your kids and your pets will understand what “gentle” means and act that way around each other.
2. Give your pet a safe (kid-free) space
According to a recent article in Psychology Today, growing up with pets is linked to higher self-esteem, cognitive development, and social skills. That said, one of the most important things you can do to help your kids and pets get along is to give them the ability to spend time apart. Sooner or later, someone is going to need their space. The best way to ensure that space is to designate a room or area of your home where your child is not allowed to go. If the size of your living space requires you to get creative, for dogs, the crate you used for housebreaking is the perfect retreat. For cats, a tall scratching post complete with an elevated perch is a wise investment to provide your cat with the means of escaping curious toddlers on the move.
3. Closely supervise every interaction between kids and pets
It’s simple. Young children and pets should never be left alone. Toddlers and babies are loud, impulsive and unpredictable beings who can only learn the right ways to treat pets through years of repetition and patience. Your 2-year old may not mean any harm, but his motions, sounds and mannerisms can cause even the most mature and loyal pet to become threatened or defensive. Think of yourself as a referee in a boxing match – it’s up to you to be sure all of the rules are being followed, to halt the proceedings when violations occur and to send the “combatants” to their respective corners when necessary.
4. Reward everyone’s good behavior
The only thing more important than being prepared for misbehavior between kids and pets is rewarding good behavior. You want everyone to feel positive about each other and that’s as easy as lavishing both your children and your pets with praise. Tell everyone how good their being and give them both plenty of hugs, pats and kisses to reinforce your words. Give your pet his favorite treats as he’s tolerating your child’s affections and continue remind your child how “good” and of course, “gentle” he’s being. You really can’t say these words enough.
5. Teach your kids to recognize the signs of pet stress
Don’t kid yourself, your children are going to make mistakes. They’re going to grab your pet’s fur and not let go, put their fingers where they don’t belong and make noises your pets don’t like. As your child matures to the point where she understands cause and effect, before you physically stop the bad behavior and remind her to be “gentle”, be sure to draw her attention to how your pet is reacting to her behavior. Help her to recognize your cat’s fluffed out tail, crouched posture and half-closed eyes and remind her that “kitty doesn’t like that”. When your dog tries to pull away, growls or bares his teeth, tell your child to “see” or “listen” and let her know “doggy doesn’t like” that. If your pet is calm enough to resume interacting with your child, great. If your pet walks away, that’s fine too. Either way, reinforce your child’s corrected behavior with “gentle”.
6. Spend extra time with your pet and be a good role model for your kids
The process of teaching your children to respect your pets is going to be a big test of your patience as well as your pet’s. There will almost certainly be times where your pet runs off or retaliates in a way that scares or frustrates you. During these times, it’s essential that you a) not get angry at your pet for losing his patience and b) reconnect with your pet after he’s calmed down so he can fully return to a calm, healthy state. Be sure to give your pet extra love after your child has gone to bed and schedule dedicated play time to keep your pet happy and properly exercised. If you notice your pet hiding, withdrawing or acting anxious, try giving him some of our CBD drops and treats and let us know if you see a difference in his behavior. We’re always interested in hearing about success stories that we can use to inspire other pet parents to help their fur babies live happier lives.
What’s your best advice for new parents who are trying to keep the peace between their kids and their pets? How old were your kids when you trusted them alone with your pets? Drop us a line on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram!