When they hold a cat for the first time, show and explain how. Show your child what to do by picking up the cat up yourself. While doing this explain what you are doing and why. Talk about wrong ways to hold the cat as well. You can illustrate the lesson to your child further by talking about how they would prefer to be held and why it matters. Your child needs to know that cats will get hurt or irritated if they are held a certain way. Many cats love attention when they are held the right way, so a large part of interacting with cats is holding them.
Focus on being gentle. This is one of the most important things kids need to know about interacting with cats and other animals. If your child is gentle, cats will respond more positively to their attention. If your kids are younger, you can take their hand and direct them into petting a cat gently. Older kids should need only your verbal direction. Let them know what is and is not gentle. For instance, even if you do it softly, petting a cat backward is not gentle because of the way it feels to a cat.
Explain what certain sounds and behaviors mean. Cats will make certain sounds or act a particular way, depending on how they feel. Kids should know that hissing means the cat feels threatened and they should stay away. Growling means the same thing. Purring means keep doing what you're doing. The cat is enjoying it. If a cat runs away or hides, that means the child should leave them be. Rubbing up against a person means a cat likes that person and wants attention. Show your child how to pay attention to a cat's cues and react based on that. For instance, if a cat starts to move around while being held, the child should gently set the cat down.
Test them around other people's pets, as well as those in shelters. This is going to be your key indicator of what your child needs to know about cats. It will also help you teach them how to properly interact. Cats will vary by breed, as well as individual personality. Let your kids play with other people's cats, having each person explain what their cat likes and dislikes. It's also a good idea to do this at an animal shelter or rescue. This way, you give a needy cat attention and you also help teach your child. Then, if your child bonds with the cat, you can see about adopting.
Allow them consistent exposure and practice. In order to fully illustrate how to interact with cats, allow your child practice as often as possible. If no one you know owns any cats, animal shelters and rescues are the perfect opportunity for this. Just make sure to only give attention to the cats who are open to it. My kids have become experts at getting even the most timid cats to open up because of consistently giving cats attention at our local animal rescue and shelter. This, along with other things, shows me they are ready to adopt and care for a cat responsibly.
*I originally published this via Yahoo Contributor Network