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We recently adopted a couple of kittens (both males and currently over 3 month old). My daughter (will be 6 in January) keeps picking any of them up, hugging him, treating him as a doll, and insisting not to loose him despite any advice or signs from her parents or the cat himself. One of the cats already scratched her on the neck when trying to escape, and yesterday I heard the other one meowing in pain.

A little context:
We adopted the kittens a couple of months ago, soon after my mother-in-law died. The kittens were born, almost feral, in the backyard of the nursing home where she spent her last months. Before, she lived with us and she was close to her grandchildren. My daughter seemed to deal with her grandmother's death quite fine at the beginning, but I've noticed she has become more irritable and sensitive. We had already discussed in adopting a pet earlier, before my m-o-l's disease (and me and my wife are cat people, and my kids had also shown predilection to cats), so from my point of view adopting these kittens were rather an opportunity than a replacement. But now I am worried that my daughter's inability to let the cats free might be related.

I would like to keep this question related to the relationship between my daughter and the cats, rather than on mourning. I just don't know if the context has to do with the issue or not.

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When the cats get older and her behavior does not change, she is going to get scratched heavily. Mature cats can and will both scratch and even bite if your daughter keeps doing what she does. –  Dariusz Dec 4 '13 at 3:43
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1 Answer

My daughter was the same way with her kitten when we first got it (no mouring issues at the same time). Rather than thinking it was about her considering the cat her toy, it was more like an over-exuberance of love for the cat and wanting to have it near all the time.

We spoke with her about how true love is shown with respect for the needs and wishes of the thing you love. Then I showed her how it felt for the cat (and told her that was what I was doing). I hugged her long and tight (without hurting her) and when she wanted to move a squeezed her a little. We talked afterward, how it felt like love at first but then how she needed to move and it started to feel uncomforable. Then I explained to her that for the cat, it might actually hurt or be really scarry.

We taught her how to "speak cat" - i.e. ways cats say they are welcoming your attention, vs. ways cat say, "get away." We also taught her the 90/10 rule. She can go 90% of the way, but then she has to let the cat do the other 10% and come to her (Thanks Will Smith).

Then, we set up some hard and fast rules. The cat had a couple of spots that were designated as "his" and if he was in those spots she was not allowed to touch him. She also was never allowed to pick him up. All four of the cats feet had to be on the floor (or where he wanted them) at all times. If she broke those rules, she had to play in her room so the cat could roam the house freely without fear of her for at least ten minutes (this felt like a hugely negative consequence to her). If the cat hissed, scratched at or bit her, I took care of things (some neosporin and a band-aid if needed), but she didn't get sympathy. "He tried to warn you he wanted his space and you didn't listen - it is the only way he has to protect himself. I'm sorry you are hurting, but maybe next time you will remember he is also a living thing with needs and feelings too."

Just like with anything, it took some repetition, and she did get scratched pretty well twice. Then they figured things out and all is well (except now we have a different cat that is a little less predictable).

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I love this! I'm going to start using the BalancedMama 90/10 Rule (patent pending) :> . We have an 'accidental' cat (Mom showed up pregnant, got homes for her & 5 but one kitten stayed) who is not a human fan (runs from all of us) but has bonded big-time with her big brothers. I'm gonna start using that with her, so the kids don't chase her around trying to pet her. –  Valkyrie Dec 4 '13 at 13:12
    
I'm gonna remember this, thank you. Three cats and a very playful toddler. –  timmied Dec 6 '13 at 15:33
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