Parental Navel Gazing

Teaching Kids to be Gentle – Got Any Advice?

Larry Fine (right) with Moe Howard and Curly H...
Larry and Moe dish out some Anneka-style tough love to Curly. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of my favorite minor accomplishments as a parent so far is teaching Anneka how to be gentle.

She’s an enthusiastic and very upbeat little girl, and she shows it by being physical. She uses her hands a lot, and had an early tendency to slap the hell out of everything in a frenzy of friendliness. Cats, kids, stuffed animals and especially dad were frequent targets of her happy slaps. I could very easily see her growing up to be a member of a Three Stooges reboot … probably as a new version of ringleader Moe – definitely not an imitator like Shemp or Joe.

I addressed this with her stuffed pets and Karma (aka FluffyWhite), the neighbor’s cat.

Every day, I’d pick up a stuffed animal and tell her to pet it. Sure enough, she’d smack it silly. So I would say “gentle” and pet the stuffed animal myself. Then I’d say “gentle” again and take her hand, showing her to pet it without knocking its poor little glass eyeballs right out of its head.

We also started making visits to FluffyWhite. I’d carry her across the street and “kittykittykitty” until the cat came out to visit (FluffyWhite and I were buddies before Anneka came along, so she trusts me pretty well). When she approached, I’d kneel while holding Anneka on my knee. The cat would walk around us, and got comfortable enough with Anneka to do the old tail-in-the-face with her, and Anneka would reach her hand out to pet – and yes, she heard me say “gentle” more than a few times!

One of the major breakthroughs came in about a month; Anneka would approach FluffyWhite on her own, give her a quick but gentle pet, and then toddle back to me at full speed, flailing her arms and giggling with every step. Right now, she will approach within about 5-10 feet from the cat, squat and extend her hand toward kitty. She doesn’t pet her for very long – just a few gentle brushes with the hand, and she’s good.

Anneka has improved with the parents, too. She still forgets and flails at us. But the moment I say “gentle,” she slows down and the smacks turn into very lights pats, usually with an accompanying hug.

She’s since met a few other kitties, and has handled them really well. I think Anneka prefers the slow, cautious demeanor of a cat to the “OMGatinypersonpetmepetmeletmelickyouandknockyouover!” whirlwind of a happy dog – though she had a terrific time petting a meaty ol’ bulldog at Cartel, one of our favorite coffeehouses.

So, how have you approached teaching your toddlers to not smack people and pets into next week?


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