Your baby and your pet are both adorable, so what could be cuter than seeing them play together? Unfortunately, like so many things that seem so basic – talking, sitting upright, chewing – playing with your four-legged friend isn’t something your child was born knowing how to do. Lucky for them, though, if there’s anyone who’s an expert at playing with your pet, it’s you, so Baby is going to have the best teacher!
It might seem too soon, especially if Baby isn’t exactly a thrilling conversationalist yet, but the best time to start teaching your little one how to get along with the furriest member of your family is right around the time they start to show an interest in your furry friend, which can happen when Baby is as young as 6 months old.
If you’re consistent about teaching Baby that pets should only be touched with gentle hands, and not to pull on the ears or tail, pick up, hit, or poke them, even if they doesn’t understand right away, they will grow into it.
Take the lead
Just like Baby probably isn’t going to learn to curse until at least middle school unless you or your partner lets a four-letter word or two drop, one of the biggest influences on Baby’s interactions with your little Fido or Fluffy is going to be the way they see you acting with your pet. This means it can be helpful to take a little extra care in the way you act around your pet, not because you don’t know how to treat him or her, but because the way you get to act with him or her may be different from the way a curious baby or toddler should. Even if your cat loves it when you pick her up, that doesn’t mean you want Baby getting into the habit, at least not for a few more years.
Narrating why you’re doing what you’re doing with a pet can also be a great way to help Baby start to understand him or her. If your dog isn’t in the mood to socialize, instead of just distracting Baby, talk to them about how the puppy is tired. This helps build the empathy needed to deal with people and pets alike.
Give lots of ways to do it right
Giving Baby good, safe ways to interact with pets gives them both a chance to build a positive relationship. Soft toys that won’t cause harm when Baby goes through a phase of indiscriminate throwing, closely supervised soft petting and brushing, and letting Baby help you feed your pet are great ways to help the two of them build a relationship.
Good fences make good neighbors
Babies and pets aren’t always natural allies, and while they generally can find ways to play well together, the chance to get away from each other can be important as well.
If you have a cat, giving them a high-up perch to retreat to will give him or her somewhere to be out of Baby’s grasp. It also gives your cat a feeling of power and control that he or she might be lacking with the changes having a baby has had on his or her environment. Having the cat go out of reach when Baby does something the cat doesn’t like is also a good way for your child to start to learn the right ways to play with your kitty.
Keeping your child’s room as a no-go area for your pet can be a good idea, too, especially early on. Young children and pets should never be left unsupervised together, and if Spot thinks of Baby’s bedroom as his personal territory, keeping the supervision consistent can get tricky. Additionally, your pet isn’t the only one who can get a bit overwhelmed by too much pet-to-baby interaction. Pets can seem big and scary to babies, especially the ones with high energy levels, and Baby could easily come to a point where too much playing together feels overwhelming.