All blog posts

Won’t Leave the Cat Alone

Tags: ,
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 has been blogging parenting advice for over 15 years. She has been a panelist at BlogWest, Blissdom, #140NYC and more. Her content appears on sites across Canada and the US, but you can read all her own blog posts right here.

More about Alyson

8 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.

    • Leanne Robinson

      Me too. I only work on the weekends and only clean and shower after the kids are in bed. They get my full attention from the moment they wake til their eyes close, AND we co-sleep. Lack of attention has nothing to do with why my 4 year old insists on carrying the new cat around all day. It’s pretty short-sighted to attribute a behavior many kids have to one single thing.

  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.

  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.

  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.


  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.


  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!

  7. Brandon

    About a year ago I got a new kitten, who once he came of age started to spray all over the place. I got him fixed, and for a couple of days the problem had resolved, but unfortunately now he’s at it again. They say stress can cause a cat to urinate outside the litter box, and as far as I can tell only think of one thing causes my kitties stress. My 5 year old son. He doesn’t abuse them, not physically anyway, but every time he comes into the room he runs around very loudly, and chases the poor cats. Of course I tell him to stop, and even relayed to him that I thought he could be what’s causing the cat stress, and in turn making him pee on the floor. Not surprisingly this only made him terrorize them more. It’s not like my kid has to fight for my attention either. I spend most of the day with him, even getting down in the floor, and playing action figures with him. I don’t get it. I’m at my wits end. Like most 5 year old’s, my kid doesn’t understand reason. I had hoped that as he got older, he’d eventually lay off of the cats, but now that I’ve got one urinating in the house I no longer have time for eventually. Like I said, he doesn’t hurt them, but I can see their stress level rise exponentially as soon as my son enters a room. I don’t want to have to get rid of the cats, but I’m running out of options. I can’t let them destroy my house after all. I’ve tried the whole ignore the behavior, and it will go away approach in other instances where my son has misbehaved, but it doesn’t work. I’ve ruled out all other causes for the cat’s urination in the house too. Their litter boxes are clean (the cat has always done number 2 in the box, and even number 1 a lot of the times), he gets along well with the other cats, and we haven’t moved or changed anything in our routines. It has to be my son. I’ve got to figure out something. They say the first step in solving any problem is to discover what’s causing it, so at least I’ve got that out of the way I guess..


Leave a Reply

5 Best Parenting Practices

Take these 5 steps towards a better relationship with your child.

Check your inbox for your Free Resource!