What Cats Can Teach Children

Friendship, acceptance and empathy are just a few things that felines may impart to your kids.

Children who have cats may maintain higher self-esteem. By: rindsey

The men hosing down the back porches didn’t see the stray kitten, but 8-year-old Marcus did. He got the men to stop their work and brought the soaking-wet, long-haired, blue-cream female kitten over to a woman who fed the neighborhood strays on a regular basis.

Bunny, as the kitten came to be called, got a good toweling off before Animal Friends of Connecticut whisked her off to a local veterinarian. And, thanks to Marcus, she ended up in a good home.

“It’s really nice to see that children can have concern for animals at such an early age,” remarks Animal Friends Director Judy Levy. Her sentiments are echoed by Marcus’s mother, who adds, “He cares a lot about stray animals. There’s something about stray animals that catches his eye…and he’s sad when I tell him we can’t take it into our home.”

Teach Your Children Well

Cats add a lot to children’s lives. One of the greatest things they can do is teach compassion and empathy.

Yes, Marcus clearly had a strong feeling for animals to begin with, or else he wouldn’t have immediately helped the drenched kitten. But someone taught him to put himself in Bunny’s place, and he spoke up on her behalf to some grown-ups he probably didn’t know — not an easy thing for a kid to do.

Who taught him? It could’ve been an adult — his mother, his grandmother or the stray-feeding neighbor. Or it could’ve been the strays themselves. There’s a wonderful story called J.T. (1969) by Jane Wagner about a kid at loose ends who finds out just what he’s capable of when he befriends a 1-eyed stray cat in need of help.

The program Start Empathy “is a community of individuals and institutions dedicated to building a future in which every child masters empathy.” It focuses on developing children into “empathetic ethical actors who will positively impact the lives of those around them” — including, in this case, a long-haired kitten who had no one to look out for her.

Sharing mealtime: Cats and other pets can help teach children the ways of empathy and compassion. By: traveloriented

Teaching children to be kind to cats and dogs is not a new concept. Caroline Earle White (1833–1916) marched humane education into Pennsylvania’s public and parochial schools, overseeing the formation of the Band of Mercy. The idea behind the Band was to educate troubled boys in the ways of compassion and responsible pet care so they would be nice to animals and other children.

Many animal-welfare organizations have programs similar to Earle White’s today. And some, such as Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCS) in Victoria, Australia, even have worksheets that help very young children begin to grasp what taking care of a pet really means.

A Feline Support System

Cats can also give kids what my dad used to call “moral support.” A cat or kitten can bring great joy to a lonely child; and sometimes, according to Purina, “teaching children to confide in their cats as if they were friends can help children recover from trauma.”

Star, an uppity Siamese kitten, took my son Zeke under her sealpoint paw after my husband’s death. I don’t know how much Zeke actually told her, but then Star always did enough talking for 2.

It has been speculated that children who have cats may have higher self-esteem. Certainly, cats can help bring some children out of themselves. Artist Gottfried Mind (1768–1814) was, by all accounts, a sickly, ugly child who found in cats the love and acceptance denied him by his own kind. An autistic savant, he learned to draw felines that were so detailed that he became known as “the Raphael of cats.”

Watch these cute kitties share some love and affection with their human:

Bringing Home Kitty

Thinking about adopting a feline? As in any relationship, there must be ground rules.

1. Cats Need Quiet Time, Too

Kids “will probably provide plenty of play and socialization,” say Doctors Foster and Smith. That’s good, but also make sure they don’t overstimulate the new arrival. Both “kittens and cats are going to need several weeks of quiet time when they are first brought into a new home. Limit play to several short sessions a day, and make sure the kitten is not bothered when sleeping.”

The solution, according to Foster and Smith, is a small room with a cat door that the cat can retreat to when things get overwhelming.

2. Insist on Kindness

Remember to nip any thoughtless behavior — tail-pulling, chasing, spraying with deodorant (true story, unfortunately) — right in the proverbial bud. Your cat will thank you, and you’ll end up with a kid a lot like Marcus.

T.J. Banks

View posts by T.J. Banks
T.J. Banks is the author of several books, including Catsong, which received a Merial Human–Animal Bond Award. A contributing editor to laJoie, T.J. has also received writing awards from the Cat Writers’ Association, ByLine and The Writing Self. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies, including Chicken Soup for the Single Parent’s Soul and A Cup of Comfort for Women in Love, and T.J. has worked as a stringer for the Associated Press, as an instructor for the Writer’s Digest School and as a columnist.

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