CHILDREN AND RABBITS
RAISING A RABBIT-FRIENDLY CHILD
Whether you have brought a baby home to your rabbit's house or have brought a rabbit home to your child's house, it is well to remember to:
Choose a time of day when your child is on "low ebb" for teaching your child about the rabbit and for play with the rabbit.
Set your child and the rabbit up for success. Try to anticipate and prevent inappropriate interaction by often showing your child how to interact.
Try not to get into a pattern of always saying "Don't..." and "Stop..." to your child about the rabbit. If your child does something inappropriate, show and talk about what the child can do with the rabbit. Offer choices for behavior and ask "What could you do...?". Otherwise, your child may see the rabbit as something he is always getting in trouble for.
Keep the child away from the rabbit for a short time if the child refuses to stop a behavior that may hurt the rabbit.
Set up the cage so rabbit can get away from the children-"a safe zone". Use child gates in doorways and/or turn the cage so their door faces the wall with enough room for rabbit but not the child.
Put the rabbit in a closed-off room when there are lots of playmates or parties. It is often better if the guests "don't know the rabbit exists". Refrain from having children's friends in to "see the new rabbit" for the first week or so. Show children's friends where rabbit lives and how to pet at times when only 1 or 2 friends visit, then make sure the rabbit is safe during the visit.
What You Can Do with Different Ages
Sitting/Crawling Infants (6-12 months): Start teaching the idea that the rabbit is to be respected and treated carefully by applying the following rules.
BUNNY RULE #1: Gentle petting. Sit on the floor with child in your lap while you pet and talk to the rabbit. Guide her hand over the rabbit's head, ears, and upper back. To prevent fur-grabbing, hold her hand flat or use the back of her hand. Do this frequently but no longer than 5 mins. at a time.
BUNNY RULE #2: Leave the rabbit alone when he hops away or goes in his cage. Interpret rabbit's body language for the child ("Oops, he didn't want anymore petting. He wants to eat or take a nap.) Prevent the tendencies to chase a rabbit who has had enough and to bang/poke on the cage by explaining: "Chasing him will make him scared of you." or "Banging on his house scares him." Watch your child carefully and make such explanations at the moment before it looks like the child may engage in such behaviors. Explaining and then redirecting the child's attention works best for this age when inappropriate behavior seems imminent or occurs.
BUNNY RULE #3: Don't touch droppings and litter. Teach the child that the litter box and droppings that may be found on floor are "dirt". You may have no problem with picking up the dry droppings with your hand, but you don't stick your fingers in your mouth! You may have to change your habits for awhile to teach this concept.
Toddlers (1-2 yrs): Continue reinforcing or teach BUNNY RULES 1-3 and add #4. Although unintentional, toddlers are capable of doing real harm to a rabbit. They will need constant supervision and frequent gentle reminders of appropriate behavior. See below for additional notes on rules.Due to still-developing muscle coordination, toddlers have a hard time keeping fingers out of rabbits' eyes so you may have to insist on two-finger petting or back-of-hand petting.Closely supervise children's interactions with the rabbit. This is the stage of the child's development when some are prone to bash things with sticks. Children this age also have a hard time not chasing a rabbit who hops away. If she chases the rabbit, the rabbit will learn to be scared of her. Teach respect for the rabbit ending the petting or playing session (“Well, that's all he wanted to do.") and interest the child in another activity. Children who are interested in toilet-training can understand "that is where the bunny poops and pees".
BUNNY RULE #4: We pet, but don't pick up the rabbit. Explain that it scares the rabbit to be picked up and both of you could get hurt. Explain that Mom or Dad may pick up the rabbit if she needs care. Explain rabbit language & actions: "Hear her teeth clicking? She likes the petting. See her toss the ball? She's playing." If child gets scratched, explain what the child did to scare or hurt the rabbit and show a better way to act. Redirect loud play to another area ("Look at bunny. She doesn't like the noise.")Toddlers love to share their snacks with the rabbit so make sure rabbit gets only small amounts proper foods and is not overloaded with cereals and crackers. They also love to help with feeding - scooping & pouring food, taking vegetables and hay to rabbit.
One to Seven Year-Olds: If a 2-yr old has grown up with a rabbit, she can have quite a bit of empathy for and knowledge about a rabbit. Continue or teach BUNNY RULES #1 through 4. Teach by example instead of by a lot of "No's"; Your child will learn most by watching you. If interested, the child may help with feeding and play with the rabbit with your supervision.
Older children: Continue or teach BUNNY RULES #1 through 4. Teach by example and setting up situations for success. Your child may build a friendship with the rabbit by sitting on the floor with the rabbit while doing homework, art work, reading, or watching TV. The rabbit will eventually come to investigate and to be petted. Older children have lots of other interests and interest in rabbit may come and go. The rabbit's care should continue to be your responsibility, but your child may help with feeding and grooming.