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Won’t Leave the Cat Alone

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Attention Seeking By Being Aggressive With Cat

Does your tot terrorize the family cat?  Do you find yourself constantly telling your kid to put down kitty? It’s a common problem.

Sure children take an interest in pets and love having a playmate. However, if you’re constantly having to remind and nag your child about leaving the cat alone, it’s not the cat that is interesting to your child, it’s your attention to the matter.

The child’s motivation behind this behavior is not to play with the cat, but to play with you!  It’s your verbal nattering on that assures the child your are engaged with them (albeit it negatively). After all, if the child chose to leave the cat alone, they would be ignored.  Need some of  mom’s attention? Simple – pull the cat’s tail. She can’t ignore that behavior.  She’s sure to talk about that!

The trick to bringing about a change is to ignore all “cat-attacking behaviors.”  If the cat antics no longer work in getting mom’s attention, the child will abandon the behavior.  No sense getting scratched for nothing.

However, if we fail to address their real need to feel some sense of connection with you, they’ll just find some other shenanigans to get into.  For young children distraction and re-direction to another activity or conversation with you works best.  Continue to build up the relationship through meaningful interactions.

About Alyson

Alyson was an early adopters of blogging. Her parenting blog was a case example in the book "Naked Conversations - How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers" by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel. You can find her articles on various parenting portals on the web.

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6 Responses to “Won’t Leave the Cat Alone”

  1. Kim Stevens

    I disagree. Sometimes it is just about the cat. One of my 5-year-old daughters loves to smell the cat’s fur and pick the cat up. It is not about attention from a parent, it is because she loves to touch the cat. Sometimes you need to protect the cat. We don’t yell or make a big fuss, we tell her it is about mutual respect and the cat is a part of our family and deserves respect too. The behavior is lessening over time, but I assure you, it’s not about getting attention from anyone but our poor tormented cat. She is a very good sport, but licks her forelegs bare from the stress. We make tons of time for our twins with weekly family fun and a family game night and we also pay a sitter so each of them can have 90 minutes alone with Mom every week. They are spoiled with love and attention and also stuff (thanks to grandparents), but still we need to protect the cat.

    Reply
  2. Alyson Schafer

    Yes, sometimes it is just about the cat – if you are not nagging reminding and getting involved, if the behaviour does not make you feel irritated, worried or annoyed – then we can deduce that child’s motivation is not parental attention. In these cases, try a logical consequence which helps the child tie freedoms and responsibilities together: ” if you would like the cat’s company then you need to not touch him, if you can’t be with him and leave him alone, the cat will have to go” Place the cat in a crate or another room. Alternatively you can have the child move away ( to their bedroom) but in my experience that will just fuel a power struggle. Sad as it is, sometimes children and animals don’t live well together and families have to make a tough decision.

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  3. Jennifer

    My kids, 3 and 4, both seem obsessed with our cat. They won’t leave her alone! Our neighbor, a 6 year old, comes over just to see the cat. Many times he just comes in and walks around the house looking for our cat. If he can’t find her, he’ll ask me to find her and he won’t leave until I do! Anyways, I do not think the kids interest in the cat has anything to do with wanting attention from me. They are just interested in the cat. Most kids are interested in animals. That is why zoos and petting farms are so popular.

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  4. Alyson Schafer

    Hi Jennifer,
    Yes – I agree. Not all interest in animals is for the purpose of attention-seeking. To determine if the child’s goal is attention, you must ask a series of questions:
    1) Does this behaviour make me feel irritated or annoyed?
    2) Do I typically respond to this behaviour by nagging? reminding? or doing for the child something they can do for themselves?
    3) Does the child stop temporarily when I give them attention or correct them? Do they resume the behaviour again at the same intensity?

    If you answer YES to these questions – the child’s goal is attention. If you answer NO – then they are just interested in animals! I hope this helps.

    Cheers,
    Alyson

    Reply
  5. Laura

    Hey there Alyson,

    Thanks for this insight!!!! It truly has triggered me and I have to say it is about attention for my step-son based on other behaviors I/we see him. The only thing that concerns me is that he is almost 11 yrs old. From this website and others I have read, this appears to be problem with toddlers. What do you make of this? It’s a bit of a multi-dimensional issue. He is one of two children, the other has special needs and is low functioning and requires a lot of care and attention. To me this is behavior that likely came about due to his personal situation of living with a brother with needs. The only thing is, I find he does get a lot of attention including the good kind so I’m somewhat perplexed.

    Thanks,
    Laura

    Reply
  6. Alyson Schafer

    Hi Laura,
    Thanks for sharing your story. If we try to step inside the mindset of your son, and see life through his eyes, you could see how his experience of watching his mom attend to his special needs brother, that he may come up with the idea that they way to know if you are loved and important is to get someone to stay busy with you. Its an erroneous belief, created in the mind of a child usually sometime in the first 4 or 5 years of their life. While the belief is wrong, he doesn’t know that! So, you are right – no amount of attention will “solve” or satisfy him – instead you need to correct his belief – to re-teach him that in fact he is loved and important EVEN when you are not paying attention to him! The idea is supplant a new belief which is that he is valuable just the way he is – for his ability to be helpful and to make a useful contribution of himself in the name of others. I teach parents how to do that by helping them learn to be “encouraging” so the child develops a more courageous outlook, a belief that right now, as I am, I am all I have to be – and that is good enough!
    Hope this helps!
    ALyson

    Reply

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