Visual support for petting cats

We have three cats, and Kiddo adores them. Sometimes he demonstrates his love by petting them gently on the head, and sometimes he does it by tackling them or grabbing their tails. No matter how many times we tell him to be gentle, it’s hard for him to remember in the moment, especially since he’s a very visual thinker and words don’t always stick. We use a ton of visual supports with him because you can tell him something a dozen times or you can show him a picture once. The difference between communicating with him verbally and visually still amazes me.

Anyway, when I was surfing Facebook a few days ago, a friend shared a diagram of where cats and dogs liked to be touched and where they don’t. It was hilarious and a tad inappropriate for a 5-year-old, but it gave me an idea to create a modified version for Kiddo. Visual support for petting catsI saved the Facebook image, printed it, traced it, colored it in, and laminated it. (My laminator was a great investment as a parent of a visual thinker.) I hummed and hawed a bit about what color to use for some areas, but eventually settled on the color scheme in this picture.

I explained to Kiddo that the green zones are places the kitties like to be petted, the red zones are places they don’t, and the yellow zones are sometimes okay and sometimes not, depending on the cat and its mood. (We also use The Zones of Regulation, so he’s familiar with green zone, yellow zone, and red zone language.)

After I explained it, he practically grabbed the visual support out of my hands and went to find the nearest kitty, which happened to be Rupert, our youngest cat and the one who is most tolerant of Kiddo. Kiddo followed him around, holding his visual support in one hand for reference, and petting Rupert in his various green and yellow zones with his other hand. He was particularly interested in the little green zone in front of the cat’s tail because he didn’t know about that before. He was absolutely delighted and even seemed a little bit relieved to finally have a cat-body map.

He doesn’t carry the visual around with him anymore, but he still looks at it frequently. And when he forgets and starts handling the cats roughly, I can bring it out as a reminder, which is so much more effective than my nagging voice.

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