Help, my 3 year old thinks she's a cat

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BrookeBC
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22 Jul 2010, 4:00 pm

She loves the cat and wants to eat the cats food, drink from the cats bowl and hang out with her stuffed animals in the cats litterbox! This isn't new it's been about a 1.5 years.

She's given time out for this and she knows it's against the rules, but lately a new twist she's started giving the cat disipline when the cat eats the cat food. She gets quite angry and ruff with the cat, pushes the cats face from the food and yells "that's enough!!" or hits or sits on the cat, which she gets time out for as well.

I don't know how to get her to understand that it's against the rules for her to eat kitty food but that it's okay for the kitty to eat it. Any suggestions?



Willard
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22 Jul 2010, 4:02 pm

Get rid of the cat.

No cat, no cat food, no litter box, no problem.



Mama_to_Grace
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22 Jul 2010, 5:01 pm

I like Willard's idea but I can see how that might not be possible-animals are sometimes parts of our families.

That said, my daughter is also mean to our cat at times. I have trouble understanding it too because the cat now steers clear of her yet she is so surprised and upset the cat doesn't like her. Anyway, she does pretend to be animals at times but has never eaten the cat food. I would say have you tried ignoring it and not punishing her to see if it might stop? Or can you feed the cat at certain times and put up the cat food at all other times? I am thinking perhaps she is getting something out of this-perhaps attention with the timeouts? Have you tried "playing along" and telling her she's a special cat who can't eat just regular cat food-that she has to have special cat food? Perhaps that would work. For my daughter I just play along with the games until she grows tired of them. She once was a wolf who slept on the floor for a good long while. She will also be a baby and want to wear diapers for periods. I have always just chalked this up to a strong imagination and not fought it.



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22 Jul 2010, 5:19 pm

I dunno, it seems fairly typical to me.

Young children observe and imitate those around them. That is part of how they learn. I have a young cousin, and he will follow me around all day long, pretending to do what I do. Its just how young children are wired. Furthermore, most of the 'pretend' games that children play are nothing more then an approximation of what they have seen others do. This is especially true amongst girls who often enjoy playing house, or pretending to be mommy, I.E. take care of the baby doll, etc.

The only difference here is that instead of imitating, and pretending to be mommy, she is imitating and pretending to be the cat. And of course when you tell her that eating cat food is against the rules, she takes it upon herself to enforce those rules. Which, to be honest, is fairly typical. Young children will often try to enforce the rules they are given on others, often in an attempt to make things fair, or even. Just look at two young siblings and you will see it all the time.

So, all that to say, have you explained the difference between a human and a cat? Your daughter is acting like a typical young girl, the only problem is that she has chosen the wrong target to imitate. Perhaps if you explain the difference between a human, and a pet cat, it might make sense to her why the cat and human should act differently.

And also, I have to wonder if your making perhaps too big of a deal about her acting like a cat. Seriously, cat food isn't poisonous to humans. It isn't as though your child is going to explode if she acts like a cat. If you just ignored the behavior, and let her sneak some cat food when she likes, then its not going to harm anything. I say let the child have fun and play pretend. She isn't harming anybody or doing anything dangerous.



BlueMage
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22 Jul 2010, 5:33 pm

There is no reason to punish her just for wanting to role-play. Just let her act like a cat, give her an outlet. If she wants to eat cat food, just put people food in a cat dish on the ground. She'll grow out of it. Eating cat food is not harmful anyway, some poor people live off of the stuff. If she wants to hang out in a litter box, give her a sandbox or a box with blankets.

She just punishes the cat because that's the example you've set up for her, the way she acts makes perfect sense.



azurecrayon
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22 Jul 2010, 6:56 pm

i can understand why you wouldnt want her to hang out in the litterbox, thats just not hygienic. the best option would simply be to remove the ability for her to interact with the cat dishes and litterbox. you can accomplish that by either moving them to places she doesnt have access to, or blocking her access from where they are.

option 1, move them. you can put them in a bathroom or porch, using a pet door for the cat to access the room with the dishes and litterbox. pet doors can be used on interior doors, or you can cut a small square out of the door big enough for the cat but not for the child.

option 2, move her. get a baby gate and block her access from wherever the dish and litterbox are.

if you want to encourage the pretend play (and if shes asd that may not be a bad thing), you can always provide her with her own food and water dishes and litterbox. fill up her food and water dish at the same time as the cats. that way there is no competition for the food.

also, teach her about cats. if hanging out in the cats litterbox is one of the main issues, simply talk to her about that. cats like to lay in the sun, or on pillows, try to get her interested in those places. but CATS do not hang out in the litterbox! if she is a cat, neither should she =)



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22 Jul 2010, 7:25 pm

Giving time out to her may be affective, I sort of know how she feels, I would pretend
I was a kittykat at that age, maybe it was a good thing I am allergic to cats



violetchild
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22 Jul 2010, 7:54 pm

azurecrayon wrote:
i can understand why you wouldnt want her to hang out in the litterbox, thats just not hygienic. the best option would simply be to remove the ability for her to interact with the cat dishes and litterbox. you can accomplish that by either moving them to places she doesnt have access to, or blocking her access from where they are.

option 1, move them. you can put them in a bathroom or porch, using a pet door for the cat to access the room with the dishes and litterbox. pet doors can be used on interior doors, or you can cut a small square out of the door big enough for the cat but not for the child.

option 2, move her. get a baby gate and block her access from wherever the dish and litterbox are.

if you want to encourage the pretend play (and if shes asd that may not be a bad thing), you can always provide her with her own food and water dishes and litterbox. fill up her food and water dish at the same time as the cats. that way there is no competition for the food.

also, teach her about cats. if hanging out in the cats litterbox is one of the main issues, simply talk to her about that. cats like to lay in the sun, or on pillows, try to get her interested in those places. but CATS do not hang out in the litterbox! if she is a cat, neither should she =)


I think this is a great reply.
.........
Cats sounds like her special interest so this play, probably helps her to relax etc. Maybe giving her own cat bowl on the floor and giving her food which looks like the cats.. (you could wash out a cat tin and put human food in it for her) would help this situation as from what i can see she is trying to impose the cat rule you set on her about not eatting the food, onto the cat.

As the other said.. you could point out to her that the cat dont play in the litter box but only uses it to go to the loo. Unfortunately then..she will probably want to go to the loo too in the litter box.. but you could give her her own litter box to use, tell her the cat must use it's litter box and she should use hers rather than its, (it would be like her having a potty.. but put kitty litter in it and it would be far easier to clean).

While you are doing this.. you could work towards getting her to understand she isnt actually a cat and directly her interest in cats in other more human ways eg cat books to read, cat human toys to play with.

If you cant get her to stop hurting the cat.. it may be best to give the cat away (which would be truely a hard lesson for her as she sees it as family) but he shouldnt be allowed to hurt it.



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22 Jul 2010, 8:14 pm

I have a different theory for this than what most people posted so far. BrookeBC, I think that, somewhere along the line, your daughter might have gotten the idea that life is easier or better as a cat than as a human. Think about it what she might have observed:
1. She has to learn the rules of eating properly and using eating utensils, while the cat gets to eat straight from the floor, without even using its hands (paws).
2. She has to obey the family rules, while the cat pretty much has free reign, save for a few simple restrictions.
3. She has to follow a bedtime on a daily basis, while the cat can sleep whenever it wants
4. She goes to preschool and sees you and your husband go to work every day, while the cat gets to stay home all day and do nothing. (In the past, cats had a "job": catching mice; but that's no longer the case in most areas.)
5. She gets punished when she doesn't do what she's supposed to, while the cat gets a little more than a warning when it misbehaves.
6. She may perceive walking on four legs and having a tail as more fun than walking on two legs and having no tail.
7. She sees the cat enjoy every meal you serve it, while she sometimes has to eat what she doesn't like. (It won't matter that the cat isn't smart enough to pick and choose its food; your daughter doesn't know that.)

Now that you've seen the list, does it seem less surprising and more concerning that your daughter acts like a cat? Unlike adults, who've gotten jaded by the limitations of the physical world, 3-year-olds may still believe that they can turn into a cat by acting like one long enough. Sadly, she's only frustrating herself by doing that, not to mention angering/upsetting you. But as long as it's implanted in her mind that cats have better lives than humans, breaking the behavior pattern will be difficult.

But it can be done. In any way you can, show your daughter the benefits of being a human over being a cat, and not the ones that come with burden, either. For example, when your daughter wants to play a particular game with the cat, and it won't listen, explain to her that it's because the cat is not smart enough to play the same game. Also, the cat can't talk, watch TV, swim in the water, listen to stories, or do other things your daughter probably enjoys. If you frame things in that manner, her desire to become a cat may lessen.

As for cat food, make an imitation of it. Put canned tuna into a bowl, and pour gravy and a little bit of tomato juice over it, to give the mixture that reddish brown color. In another bowl, put some plain croutons, and sprinkle them with Old Bay seasoning and juices from a tuna can. Mix the two. In the end, it's similar enough to real cat food to let your daughter get her cat food fix, and not that unhealthy, either. Still, I wouldn't encourage her to eat it from a bowl on the floor; at most, let her eat hands-free while sitting at a table.



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22 Jul 2010, 8:22 pm

I like many of the suggestions you've gotten above. There is nothing inherently wrong with her trying to imitate the cat, just something unhealthy in her trying to spend time in the liter box and eat the cat's food. Finding a way for her to do these things without the health hazard sounds like a good way to resolve it, while also making access to the cat's actual items more difficult or impossible. Does she understand that your meal is on your plate and hers is on hers, etc? If so, that may help her stick to her "cat bowl" instead of trying to get into the kitty's. Just keep clear in how you talk about it that she is "pretending" to be like kitty, so that she understands you do not think she IS like kitty, and maybe also note that "this is OK while you're home with just me, but when we out and about or at grandma's, etc., I really need you to act like a little girl and not a cat." Oh, and you could point out that a real cat would never, ever want to share it's liter box, would never put a favorite toy in it's liter box, and is highly unlikely to sleep on it's own waste (unless there are no other comfortable options - I've only seen it done with caged cats). If she's going to copy cat behavior, you may as well sell the useful ones.

All that said, I can understand wanting to just suppress it, and how frustrating it is, but since, as you have discovered, curiosity will win out pretty much every time, I think you'll find learning to roll with it to be a lot more satisfactory long term.

Aspie1 was writing when I was and I think the angle he brought up is a good one and should be considered, as well. Both my kids (one NT, one AS) went through big toddler reversion stages, basically in the hopes of returning to a simpler time in their lives. Or, maybe your daughter just identifies more with the cat, in the kind of way that Temple Gradin identifies more with animals. When developing policies, probably all of the possibilities should be considered, so that you don't do anything that might backfire.


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22 Jul 2010, 10:58 pm

I've heard that AS people often find it easier to relate to cats. There's even a book to explain AS to kids called "All Cats have Asperger's Syndrome". I remember feeling as if I was born in the wrong body as young as three. I felt I was born the wrong species.


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violetchild
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23 Jul 2010, 12:23 am

PunkyKat wrote:
I've heard that AS people often find it easier to relate to cats. There's even a book to explain AS to kids called "All Cats have Asperger's Syndrome". I remember feeling as if I was born in the wrong body as young as three. I felt I was born the wrong species.


:D That is a great book. Maybe the original poster would consider getting it for her child to do "human" things.. eg read cat book



BrookeBC
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23 Jul 2010, 10:50 pm

Thanks guys for the responses, lots of interesting things to try. She's a bit behind in speech (at an 18 month old level) but her speech is improving all the time so I think alot of the strategies mentioned will come in useful over the next few months.



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24 Jul 2010, 5:00 pm

ohh that the cutes thing i ever heard on WP.


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25 Jul 2010, 3:13 pm

BrookeBC wrote:
She loves the cat and wants to eat the cats food, drink from the cats bowl and hang out with her stuffed animals in the cats litterbox! This isn't new it's been about a 1.5 years.

She's given time out for this and she knows it's against the rules, but lately a new twist she's started giving the cat disipline when the cat eats the cat food. She gets quite angry and ruff with the cat, pushes the cats face from the food and yells "that's enough!!" or hits or sits on the cat, which she gets time out for as well.

I don't know how to get her to understand that it's against the rules for her to eat kitty food but that it's okay for the kitty to eat it. Any suggestions?


Just keep her away from the cat. When you see her turn her START to turn her attention to the cat, distract her.

If she see's something un-cat related that she really likes...like candy or something, get her into a situation where she wants it so you can remind her "but I thought you said you were a kitty....kitties don't like candy. It's for people. Are you a person?"

And maybe she will eventually relent.



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26 Jul 2010, 11:05 am

Amazing. People really think a human acting like a cat should be tolerated? There are feral children who think and behave like animals and they never grow out of it. You are dabbling with the idea of collapsing society if you think it's ok to tolerate a child acting like a cat. Tell the child to stop the behaviour, or you will remove the cat. If you are attached to the cat, punish the child.