Care and Feeding

My 2-Year-Old’s New Favorite Coronavirus Isolation Game Is Terrorizing the Cats

As in, chasing them around like a roaring dinosaur. How do we convince him this isn’t fun for everyone?

A toddler "petting" a cat.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I have a 2½-year-old son with another boy due in July. We also have cats. With the pandemic, both my husband and I are working from home (but I have a little more flexibility than my husband). My son has been pretty great about the whole thing despite the odd tantrum, but he’s 2, so we know it goes with the territory.

Our dilemma is that his favorite things to do right now, when he’s not busy with Legos or Play-Doh, is running around at “jet speed” and roaring like a dinosaur, loudly (thanks to his favorite cartoons), which he does to our cats. They are freaked out. We have talked to him, told him it scares the cats, reminding him about the time a neighbor kid screamed in his face and scared the crap out of him. We have also done timeouts. Nothing seems to be helping.

One of our cats hissed at him. Since then, he seems to have a healthier respect for that one particular cat. He will still interact with the cat (take “pictures” with a pair of binoculars, say hi when the cat comes into the room, etc.) but no longer runs after and roars at that cat. Our others, on the other hand, he still continues to roar at and chase. They will not hiss at him (even though we kinda wish they would).

Any ideas how to get him to stop? Or is this a “he will grow out of it” situation. He’s kind to other animals, and I think he thinks he is playing with them. We just need him to learn that it’s not playing.

—Not a Tiger King

Dear NaTK,

Ah, the benefits of a hissing cat. We love a feline with well-defined personal boundaries. All three of my kids have gotten lightly scratched exactly once by our very unfriendly cat (she’s just a dick, she’s 12, she was a street kitten, we accept her basic nature) and have responded by treating her like the biggest guy on their prison block: with respect and wariness.

My ears perked up at “thanks to his favorite cartoons,” because, guess what, even a 2½-year-old can figure out the cause and effect of “if you keep freaking out the cats, you cannot watch the shows that inspire you to freak out the cats.” He does seem like a nice kid who will grow out of it, but that doesn’t mean you cannot continue to goose that process with consequences. It sounds like you have very sweet cats, but the last thing you want right now is an infected bite wound, which could require you to take your kid into a hospital. And all cats have their breaking point.

The cartoons will stop until the cat teasing comes to an end. That’s easy. I recommend you then facilitate more productive ways for him to “play” with the cats. The fake fishing rods that dangle a collection of feathers, the little laser pointers … things that will allow him to have a good time with the cats that will also amuse the cats. It’s never too early to teach kids how to interact respectfully with animals, and some cheap cat toys will go a long way to building a good relationship, minus the roaring.

Dear Care and Feeding,

Any practical tips for how to get kids to keep their hands out of their noses and mouths? My kids are 4 and 7. The 7-year-old, in particular, has a lot of sensory preferences and scratching/picking his nose seems to have become a self-soothing route of choice. Before COVID-19, I was content to remind him to stop whenever I noticed but also just let him be a gross kid, as this behavior didn’t seem out of the bounds of normal. Now, though, it feels like this is something I should be able to “solve” before schools reopen. Any smart solutions?

Yes, we’ve talked about hand-washing and spreading germs and he definitely gets it, but frankly I don’t even think he knows when his hands are on his face.

—Snotty in Seattle

Dear SiS,

Oh, sister, I am right there with you. It’s a real challenge, especially if it’s a soothing behavior in a time when they’re coping with a total loss of routine. I myself, a lifelong nail-biter and cuticle-murderer, have been carefully washing my hands for 20 seconds and then just going to town on my fingers a few times a week. We’re all struggling.

I’m always encouraging people to buy chewing necklaces (run them through the dishwasher every night!) to redirect hands-in-mouths and repetitive-nose-manhandling and clothing-chewing behaviors, but it’s … still putting stuff in your mouth, with your hands. You could go the fidget toy method, here’s a big, inexpensive collection so you can find out what kind of alternative appeals to your kid in particular. That’s likely where you should start. Heck, you may find yourself soothed in the process.

I would suggest a lot of personal expectation management. This is not a great time to pick for definitively “solving” a long-term issue, and everyone will be eventually returning to school with a collection of new neuroses and hang-ups, not just your kid. He’s probably still going to mess with his nose. You can go for a reward chart for time spent not scratching/picking his nose, but he’ll still do it in private. There’s no definitive Answer I can offer, other than patience and just continuing to draw his attention to the behavior and redirecting it.

I wish you both the very best of luck.

• If you missed Sunday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

A good family friend is getting a trampoline. I have an (irrational?) fear of trampolines as a parent. Mostly what I’m afraid of are injuries that would require medical care. We have insurance, but can’t really afford extra expenses. I also have friends who have had really bad injuries from trampolines (though nothing I’ve witnessed), and I never really had the opportunity to use one much as a kid.

They look like so much fun though, and I know they’d be a great energy burner. Yet, I worry. Once “shelter in place” is done with I’m sure we’ll be spending time with them and their kids. I can’t make my kids not bounce on it when we visit, that would be horrible for them, but I don’t know what to do. Do I just suck it up? I’m tired of being the only one who worries about this stuff.

—Jumpin’ Jane

Dear JJ,

There’s a reason very few medical professionals acquire trampolines. You are not incorrect that they result in injuries, some very serious. There are also different kinds of backyard trampolines (nets, covers, etc). The American Academy of Pediatrics would prefer they be launched into the sun, like an untethered bouncy castle, but if you do use one, their best safety guidelines call for constant parental supervision, one (1) jumper at a time, adequate padding, and “for the love of God, no flips and stunts.” You are not the Buzzkill Mom; you’re actually being quite prudent. I say this as someone whose kids would cheerfully donate half their spinal column in exchange for a trip to a trampoline park right now.

If your friends acquire a small trampoline, you have the option of being the person who says, “Hey, I’m a Nervous Nellie. When my kids come over, would you mind dragging it into the garage?” If they don’t want to (totally their call as homeowners), or if it’s a larger trampoline, you can also stand there like a hawk and enforce good trampoline behavior. But, if you want your kids to have play dates there, and you don’t want to have to watch them the entire time, they’re gonna use the trampoline. It’s just science.

It makes sense to me that you’ll just have to be the person who takes the responsibility of watching your kids use your friend’s trampoline. It is also the case that your kids will be less excited to use a trampoline if you are standing 4 feet away yelling “NO FLIPS! LESS HIGH!” and that this may be perfectly sufficient to make them bored of the entire enterprise.

Essentially, you are not unreasonable, you have valid concerns, and you will just have to actively parent your way through this, like you would any other potential safety issue at a friend’s home.

Should Parents Feel Guilty About Being Bored by Small Children

Dan Kois, Jamilah Lemieux, and Elizabeth Newcamp host this week’s episode of Slate’s parenting podcast, Mom and Dad Are Fighting.

Dear Care and Feeding,

Like a lot of us right now, I have an older parent (my mom, in her 70s) who lives alone halfway across the country. While otherwise healthy for her age, I know that the lack of in-person human interaction is starting to take a toll on her mental health.

A few days ago the son of a close friend of hers reached out to me to let me know her friend (his mother) had passed away, and asked if I could let my mother know since he didn’t have her phone number.

I’m afraid if I tell her it will only make her mental health situation that much worse. But if I don’t tell her she might try to call her friend and get the news from her grieving family (who expected me to tell her) or worse, from the newspaper.

What should I do?

—Agonized in L.A.

Dear AiLA,

Tell her right now. I think in her situation I would want to reach out, to send flowers, to talk to her son on the phone and share my memories. Your mother desperately needs community, and sometimes community means “being sad together.” You absolutely do not want her to find out from someone else, and this is something you can do for her in a time of isolation and fear.

Not all the gifts we can give our loved ones are fun. Sometimes it’s a hard but necessary phone call. She should hear this news from you, and you should try to be extra available to her while she grieves. Everyone (if they’re lucky) hits a point in their life when they start to lose their peers to old age and illness, and it sucks, and they need and deserve to grieve those losses. Ask your mother how they became friends. What are her happiest memories of her friend? How did she make her laugh?

My mother will call me and say, “I had to make a peach pie today,” which is Rural-Irish-Canadian-Catholic for “someone I know died and I dropped off baked goods,” and then we talk about it. You know your mother best, and I believe you can be a source of support to her though this. It’s not a telegram; it’s a conversation. Have the conversation, and also my condolences.

— Nicole

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