We recently received an email from one of our readers with a concerned question regarding her three-year-old son’s behaviour and their pet cats. Intrigued, we asked bestselling parenting author and My Baba resident expert Elizabeth Pantley for some much-needed advice. Do you have a question our experts might be able to answer? Email us, info@mybaba.com.  

My son, 3, has just started being mean to our cats, chasing them, scaring them and even putting mud on the cat next door’s head when we were out in the garden recently. I keep shouting at him and putting him in time out but it doesn’t seem to make a difference, he seems to find the animals reaction hilarious. Is this normal, does this mean he is an evil child? He is normally quite well behaved well as well as most boys of that age.

It sounds like your child is behaving like a normal preschooler who simply doesn’t understand that cats have feelings, too. Because your pets are not like people who can look sad or cry it’s unlikely your son understands how his behaviours affect your pet. A few lessons and gentle guidance should help him learn and turn this behaviour around.

When your son mistreats the cat it’s time for you to jump in quickly – and be a calm teacher. Get down to his level, hold his hands, look him in the eye and in a brief, clear description explain, “Kitty is hurt and sad. He doesn’t like that. We want to be gentle with kitty.” Use your own expressions to display how you think the cat feels. You can even pretend to be the cat and give him words and tears. “Kitty says, ‘Ow! Ow! That hurt me. Please don’t do that!” Then show him how to say he’s sorry with a gently kitty caress.

In addition, do some preventative teaching. Sit next to your child on the sofa with the cat on your lap. Demonstrate the right ways to handle your pet and help your child pet and cuddle kitty in a safe, appropriate way. Maybe allow him to feed the cat some kitty treats. Soon he’ll be following your lead and will learn to be a good “big brother” to your cat.

By Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Discipline Solution