Children need to learn gentleness around pets

Since humans started domesticating animals, pets have become a constant in many people’s lives.

Since humans started domesticating animals, pets have become a constant in many people’s lives.

It is not strange to hear people say they couldn’t live without their animal companions. They bring us joy, relaxation, and comfort.

For parents with toddlers, pets can be challenging, especially when teaching the child to be gentle and not aggressive when interacting with the animals.

I used to babysit for a friend who had a two-year-old daughter and a new kitten at the time.

The toddler was very aggressive with the kitten, more than once she would pick up the kitten by the head or neck. The child was demanding with the kitten and treated it as a toy.

As time passed it grew up into a wily and evil cat who would not hesitate to attack the nearest person with teeth and claws, then run away to hide and plot its next move.

One sure way to avoid this happening to you and your pet would be to wait to add kittens or puppies to your family till after the toddler stage, when your child will have more control over their emotions and impulses.

Puppies in particular are like a lot like a child: they require time, energy and training that will highly benefit them as they get older.

Kittens are rambunctious and tend to use their claws during play.

They don’t require the same training as a puppy but their first months are critical to create a well-socialized pet.

Playing rough with a kitten may seem like fun, but as they get older and stronger, they will try to engage in the same type of play and often your hands, feet and children become their unwitting victims.

According to the website section on aggressive behaviour by Rebecca Parlakian and Claire Lerner, toddlers “still have limited self-control.”

They are realizing that they are their own individual, separate from their parents and others around them. They are asserting themselves and acting as independently as they can.

Concerning any pet, whether it is a guinea pig, cat or dog, it is important to teach your toddler to be gentle.

Use gestures to show them how to pet the animal softly and in a manner that the pet enjoys.

Match your tone of voice with your gestures; as Parlakian and Lerner indicate, the child may not understand your words right away but they will understand the tone of your voice, along with the implied gesture. “This is important both for helping your baby learn empathy and how to lovingly interact with others.”

Always be sure to monitor your child’s interaction with the family pet.

Even well-trained dogs may reach their limit with an impetuous toddler yanking on their ears and climbing over them.

“They have many different textures for a child to explore,” says Parlakian and Lerner. They suggest taking this time to teach your child not to pull on the dog’s limbs or tail. Again, show your toddler with gestures and words corresponding with the desired result, which is to interact gently and respectfully with the family pet.

There are many reasons to incorporate animals into your child’s life; they seem to complete the family picture.

Pets teach children to care and respect for animals.

They can also teach responsibility as a child gets older and is able to help with certain aspects of the animal’s care. With gentle love, pets can bring fun and laughter to the whole family, as well as a furry, cuddly family member to curl up with.

Positive Parenting appears every week in LIFE. This week’s column was written by Jesseca Johanson with Family Services of Central Alberta. Johanson can be reached by calling 403-343-6400 or

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