Learning to Like Cats
Child and Cat Together - photo by irene nobrega
I am reminded today that probably in a significant number of cases in the UK and probably in other countries, learning to like cats begins at a very tender age indeed. And if I am correct this puts an added yet usually hidden responsibility on parents.
Some children in the UK say their first words at aged 3 - this is late. For 34% of girls first words are spoken before 9 months of age (I Can). Boys lag behind (wasn't that always the case!). Einstein didn't talk until he was aged 4 and look how he turned out (maybe he was just good with numbers though and didn't say much).
The first words spoken are probably Dadda and Mama, naturally enough. What interests me is that setting aside parental names the top word is "cat". Yes, cats rule!
Seriously though, this must point to the fact that the presence of a cat in a significant number of households in the UK has an influence during early years. And it could be argued that it is second only to the toddler's mother and father.
That influence can only be felt if the cat is a close presence for the child. So close that there is probably interaction between child and domestic cat.
Where there is interaction of this type by a child that is encountering first experiences daily, there is a good chance that it will go wrong.
What I mean is that the child may inadvertently mishandle the cat. This may provoke a naturally defensive response in the cat and a possible scratch or bite.
No big deal probably, I hear people say. I agree but in some cases the toddler might develop a life long distrust of the domestic cat.
This mistrust may develop further into something more grave and unsettling for the cat - violence towards it due to a fear of it.
A lot of misconceptions about the cat arise from a lack of understanding about the cat underpinned by a fear of the cat or at least an anxiety towards the cat. An anxious approach towards a cat is more likely to elicit the wrong reaction from the cat due to unsure handling.
So, all things being equal a bad start with our cat companions at aged 12 months can have a detrimental effect on the cat. And I for one don't want that.
The answer? Parents need to supervise their children very carefully when their children play with the domestic cat. And parents should be in tune with what is the best way to handle cats.
Cats obviously have an impact (a very good one, usually) on toddlers judging by their early learning of the word, "cat", but the parents have an obligation to ensure that it is always a good one. Learning to like cats depends on concerned and thoughtful parenting. And if a child learns to like cats it bodes well for all animals, which can only be a good thing.