What should I do when my child plays rough with pets?

Q: What should I do when my two-year-old plays rough with our pet?

A: Don't be too hard on your child: Empathy doesn't always kick in this early -- it may take until age 4. For now, explain in simple terms why pulling the dog's ears or the cat's tail isn't acceptable: "Ow! That hurt Rex. Now he's sad." Kids this age may not recognize when they're being overly aggressive, so they need you to step in. It's up to parents to model and teach appropriate behaviors, so try holding your child's hand, walking gently toward your pet, and saying, "Let's use two fingers and pet Rex softly. Can you try that?" --Jeannette Moninger

Originally published in Parents magazine, February 2008.

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