Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Uli and the Pussy Cats


Welcome to the April Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting advice!
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month we're writing letters to ask our readers for help with a current parenting issue. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.
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I could use some advice.

Until recently the only attention my daughter paid our cats was to wag a finger in their direction and say "No, no!" very sternly when they attempted to snack on her food. Maybe she took the occasional cat nap. That was about it.

Ah, the good old days. A cuddle with James.


Over the last several months, however, she's become more and more aggressive toward the poor kitties. She jumps on, squeezes, kicks, and squashes them. She rolls on them. She pounds them on their little heads. She tugs their ears. She bugs them. A lot. All the time. Constantly.

It's not her only contact with them; she knows the word "gentle" and when prompted she'll momentarily let the cat out of the headlock in which she's placed it to softly stroke its back and excitedly coo, "KEY-ee!"  But we're tiring of seeing her step on and kick the "key-ees" when they've been sitting on the floor or lying on a chair minding their own hairballs. Last week we caught her jabbing a sleeping cat with her fork!

  
Lucy may have squished her a little bit, but it was no jab with a fork!


Our cats are not defenseless; they all have their claws and they [rightly] take swipes at her when they've had enough. I almost wish they'd defend themselves more often so I didn't feel I have to constantly rescue them, but even with their patient natures Uli's been scratched and bitten several times. She cries buckets of tears when they defend themselves; we pick her up, hug her, and tell her she mustn't hurt the kitties. We tell her she must be gentle with them and pet them softly. But it's as though acting calmly around them is a foreign concept to her. She goes directly from wailing about a scratch to attempting to ride a cat like a horse.

If we rouse the cats and shoo them away from her she follows them. If we shoo her away from the cats she smiles a sassy smile and runs right back to them. She'll continue to smirk at us and approach the cats regardless of how many times we move her away from them, even if we raise our voices to show how upset and frustrated we are by her behaviour. (I feel like an utter failure each time we raise our voices. I don't want to be the parents that yell at their toddler. And I don't even know why we keep doing it since it's obviously not working!).

I feel like if we don't get a grip on this cat business we're just asking for other issues later, not to mention more self loathing over the yelling situation. Or am I taking this all too seriously and just need to keep doing what we're doing until she gets a bit older and (somehow, miraculously?) acts more responsibly toward them?

An increasingly rare tender moment with Mischa

Dear readers, if you can please shed (hah!) some light on our Toddler Versus Cats situation, I'd greatly appreciate it.




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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
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(This list will be updated by the end of the day April 13 with all the carnival links.)



      17 comments:

      Carmen April 13, 2010 at 5:06 AM  

      Thomasin,
      SO funny to read this...it is the same problem we have with Trey and our dog! I do think she is unfortunately on the young side to really grasp what she is doing. However, I am convinced that your steady consistency will pay off. I have a friend who is in child development and he really encourages role play. Maybe you could try sitting down with one of her stuffed animals, and a "live" kitty. Show her what can be done to each, and intermittently allow her a turn. You will have to role play this often...once a day, many times a day even, for it to begin to sink in. This type of role play does wonders with Trey's behavior. And I think in a few months, she'll start to grasp the situation a bit better, also. Sometimes I think one of the hardest parts about parenting is the steady perseverance with very slow results! Go Mommy! :-)

      Deb April 13, 2010 at 8:50 AM  

      What a good idea! We've used role playing with other things, it takes a while but it does work.

      My only helpful thought is do the cats have a safe place? We only had cats when our big girl was much younger, but we put a baby gate across the laundry door and that's where their food was. It meant they had somewhere safe to go that they knew they wouldn't be disturbed, you could put a nice cushion or scratching pole there for them as well.

      Good luck, it will happen eventually.

      Dionna @Code Name: Mama April 13, 2010 at 8:52 AM  

      Honestly? I'd separate them for awhile. The only time I'd let them together is when you were right there in the middle of it to supervise and be proactive - mediate the behavior before it starts (reminders of "gentle touches," modeling the appropriate behavior, etc.). Is there something else you could let your toddler tear up? Maybe she just wants to destroy something :) Playdough? Shredding paper? If you see her pull the cat's ears, instead of yelling, say "wow! It looks like you want to pull on something - here, let's go grab some silly putty for you to play with." And then gently lead her away from the one-eared cat. Good luck! We dealt with cat/toddler issues, and everyone came out relatively unscathed.

      Helen April 13, 2010 at 2:17 PM  

      I'd make sure there is a place the kitties can get away from her. If they CAN get away from her, and they decide to stick around for the abuse, then it must not really bother them.

      I would be really careful with the biting and scratching...cat bites can be really infection-prone and nasty. I'd try to split them up before it comes to bites and blows :)

      Hang in there, before long they'll be fast friends!

      Lauren @ Hobo Mama April 13, 2010 at 2:22 PM  

      I think you're right that she'll eventually grow gentler as she gets older. That's been the case for us, at least. I thought my constant reminders of "gentle!!" were doing nothing, but they've taken more hold now that Mikko has a little more motor and impulse control. That said, he was never as rough with our cat as your charming child is with yours! I'm very surprised they're putting up with as much as they are.

      I wonder if you could include her more in the care for them. Encourage her to help you prepare their food and refill their water, and get a toy she can play with to amuse them in a way that's not dangerous for them. My absolute favoritest cat toy (no comparison, seriously; accept no substitutes) is Da Bird. http://www.go-cat.com/da_bird_da_bird.html It has a long string so wouldn't be safe for her to use unaccompanied or to have left out, but I know for a fact toddlers enjoy whipping that thing around!

      You'll be happy to know the word verification code for my comment starts with "cat"! :)

      Brooke @ Parenting from Scratch April 13, 2010 at 3:13 PM  

      I don't so much have advice, but I do have a 12-month-old daughter who is probably heading in this direction, and I'm anxious to hear what advice you get. Sadie is very, um, enthusiastic with our surprisingly patient cats. I just don't know how long their patience will last as her strength increases. For now, it's mostly fur- and tail-pulling. A little bit of pouncing. They stick around much longer than I would, and for now she's not too determined about following them when they leave. I like the idea of a baby gate for the cats' safe place. Ours is a laundry room/pantry combo, and the cats' food is on the dryer, so that might actually work at our house, if need be. Good luck to you!

      pchanner April 13, 2010 at 8:41 PM  

      I sounds like she is being really curious and interested in how the kitty's respond to her. I think she will out grow it soon. Just continue to let her know it isn't acceptable.

      mrs green @ littlegreenblog.com April 14, 2010 at 2:35 AM  

      We had this exact same issue and my cats were total softies - they would accept everything, but woe betide ME if I accidentally trod on their tails!

      I used to say "hands are for being gentle with" and model gentle stroking. It felt like this went on for YEARS, and I think it did - but you know what, your cats CAN defend themselves or they can run off. I second the idea that they have a safe space to go to and when they are there it is out of bounds from your inquisitive and curious LO.

      It's easy to say, but I really wouldn't worry too much about it - the cats can take care of themselves - ours lived until 17, so no real harm done ;)

      Zoey @ Good Goog April 14, 2010 at 2:46 AM  

      We also have a cat. And my daughter's enthusiasm for the cat is often overwhelming.

      A couple things that helped early on. The cat always has an escape route and can get to an area outside that my daughter can't get to. And I keep them separate to one another when they are eating.

      I spent countless times teaching her to be gentle, and while she knows what the word means, sometimes she's gentle, sometimes she's not.

      Luckily I have a pretty placid cat and although she's not declawed she doesn't lash out.

      Sarah @ OneStarryNight April 14, 2010 at 6:04 AM  

      OMG those photos are just adorable.

      With DS1 it was just a matter of being REALLY on top of the situation when he was around my father's cats. Eventually as he got older he became more gentle.

      DS2 who currently is 6.5mo old has a tendency to grab handfuls of our cats fur so we just keep showing him how to gently PET the kitty, not wack at his face with his wee balled up fists of power.

      I am interested in all the responses you're getting so we can also address this!

      Thomasin April 14, 2010 at 7:36 AM  

      I'm so happy! You've all had great responses, thank you! I've just gotten so upset by her treatment of the cats. And you WOULD think they'd run to avoid her but they just sit there letting her pull on their tails until they can't take it any longer (possibly when she decides to body slam them). Escape routes: check. Modeling: check. Patience: I'm working on it. ;-) Thank you all!! And keep the advice (or solidarity) coming if there's any more to share. I really do appreciate it!

      Darcel April 14, 2010 at 9:32 AM  

      Those pictures are so cute! I don't have any advice. Just wishing we had cats.

      Shana April 15, 2010 at 12:20 PM  

      I was going to write an almost identical post for this carnival (except it's my too-patient dog that gets tormented versus cats). Ended up not haven't a chance to participate in this carnival due to some family emergencies requiring my time and energy, but I'm happy to read your responses!

      the grumbles April 15, 2010 at 12:34 PM  

      If your cats have a place of their own they can escape to without her? I'd do nothing. Maybe some role playing, keep working on 'gentle', but this is really just an age issue. She'll eventually learn a little bit better control and the cats, as you've said, are perfectly capable of defending themselves (not that I'm saying you should let your cats scratch her up, but eventually the point is going to sink in that they don't like to be played with that way). Keep working through it, it sounds like you're doing just fine!

      Alexandra April 15, 2010 at 3:15 PM  

      oh man! part of me is saying just leave them be and they will all figure it out. She will learn not to be rough and they will learn to defend. but the other part is saying separate them for a while. I'm sorry I know that's not helpful. We have no pets so I really probably shouldn't be giving you advice on the subject anyway. Let us know what you decide! :)

      Momioso April 16, 2010 at 10:48 AM  

      I love your post - you have a great way with words :) You know, I really do think this is a phase... she's going to get bored at some point and move onto something else. I am wondering whether some kind of toy - perhaps even some kind of moving cat - do they have such a thing? - might do the trick? Or any other toy even.

      montessorimatters May 3, 2010 at 9:01 PM  

      So I'm thinking, after reading all this, that perhaps her brain (unconsciously) is trying to categorize all the different reactions she gets when she attacks the cats. Like, one day she hurts the cat and you pick up the cat, then the next day she hurts the cat and you pick HER up, then the next day she hurts the cat and you have a talk with her... I wonder if she would stop hurting the cats if your response was always the same? Just a thought...

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