I will start by saying I was lucky that neither of my children did anything to our cats other than enjoy their company as pets so I do find it difficult to understand why a child would do this. From what you say, she does know it is wrong but is pushing you as hard as she can to continue with what she is doing. Could the cat not be persuaded to sleep out of reach or in a quiet place where your DD is denied access? I would normally say ignoring a tantrum is best and you could do this as long as the cat is safely out of reach. One of my cats would have reacted with a good scratch if he had been tormented and I think DDs understood this early on so they respected him. I also believed in saying a very sharp "No" or "Don't you dare do that" when their behaviour was unacceptable . I was not quiet about it. It is also a behaviour trait that would not be tolerated if your DD was to torment someone else's cat so I think being very strong and determined to stop this is important, even though she is young.
My DS1 is just coming up to 2. We've not had any success with using a 'naughty step' as my parents called it as he likes to climb the stairs & is usually in a silly mood while we're attempting discipline. Stairs + silly mood is just asking for trouble! What we have found useful though is having a corner to send him to. It only took a couple of days of repeatedly sending him back to the corner every time he moved an inch for him to go from thinking it was a hysterical game to apologising the moment I mentioned the corner! During the first few days I was very strict about everything he did & kept physically returning him when he moved, although not holding him there. I felt awful doing it but I'm convinced it was for the greater good. He'd developed a habit of laughing at us saying no & continuing with throwing things etc. With a newborn around we couldn't risk it! Now he gets reminded that whatever he's doing isn't allowed or asked to stop, told to stop, warned that he'll need to go in the corner (at which point he usually stops, edges towards us saying "sowwy" & blows a kiss) & then told to sit in the corner. We never have to physically put him there now. He just shuffles himself towards it saying "corner, corner, sowwy"! It's so cute I have to try not to laugh! We never make him stay there very long - rarely longer than 30s. It's just long enough to distract him from what he was doing or calm him down if he's wound up. Once he's calmer we ask him to come & say sorry, he does & we go back to playing. If he continues doing something potentially dangerous then he's sent back to the corner again. If that still doesn't work he gets put in his cot for a few minutes. That happens maybe once a fortnight! I feel really mean & hate doing any of it but I guess it's best to have consistent discipline right from an early age. I've seen friends regretting not trying to discipline until their DC are 3+ & then having a real battle getting them to listen. We're taking their advice & getting in early! Seems to have worked so far!
I've just started doing time out with my DS 2.1 and it seems to be working. If he's misbehaving and I threaten the mat he stops. I time it exactly 2 minutes then I tell him what he did, he says sorry and we have a cuddle and move on. So far he hasn't repeated any if the things he's gone on the mat for. Seems to have gone a bit too smoothly so we shall see if it's still working in a few weeks!
We used a naughty corner instead of a step. A cushion is put on the floor in the corner and they had to sit on it for one minute per year of age. If they got off, you put them back with no eye contact and no speech and you time it properly, with the timer reset every time they moved. Our eldest very quickly got how it worked and stopped getting up after a few goes. Now he's 5 so he gets sent to his room (no toys up there yet) but generally the warning is enough. Our youngest never really needed the corner - he's a real sulker so if you yell at him, he goes and sits in the naughty corner and sulks there!
I'm torn with this one - on the one hand I do subscribe to the theory that toddlers tantrum because they are experiencing big emotions, and to send them away when they need you most (to help regulate them) is not a message I like. But, I agree that they do need to see consequences to their actions.
Ds (2) also loves our cat, and loves to pester her. We have a rule that he leaves her alone while she's eating (he generally obeys) but other than that we just wish she'd stick up for herself a bit more! She's happy to give us the odd warning nip, but has never touched ds (so he was more than a bit upset when a cat went for him out and about one day!). He's not too rough with her and we figure she can always run away...
Can you shut the cat away from dd when it's eating? Other than that I guess the tantrums are the consequence perhaps? Probably not enjoyable for dd and a consistent approach such as you've got must surely will show results hopefully? (Without the naughty step/time out).
I do absolutely understand that a child wants to pick up a cat! However, you said your child was tormenting your cat. This is somewhat different. One of my cats is very accommodating and the other is not. However, I still think that you need an effective method to stop her pulling your cat's tail. This is not just simply picking up! My children were taught that the cats were not play things and needed to be given respect. It could be very nasty if your DD does this to someone else's cat. It could bite or scratch. I agree with Misty that a degree of separation is best for cat and DD.
I totally understand how you feel. My DS is 23 months and we have 2 dogs, one is getting on a bit and the other is not long out of puppy years. DS loves to pull tails, bash rather than pat or stroke and on occasion will actually sit on them and try to bounce.
I've tried to set very clear rules that DS does not touch the dogs when they are eating. He pushes the limits and some days when he tries to go for them he gets picked up and held under my (or DH's) arm like a rugby ball which isn't very comfortable for him and told he's not allowed to touch the dogs when they are eating. We have to supervise the dogs meal times to make sure they don't steal each other's food so cant do 'time out' on these occasions.
It feels like we are on constant repeat of 'don't hit, stroke gently' and showing how to pat nicely and it finally seems to be sinking in. When DS does it properly I go over the top with good praise.
I think they know or have learnt what gets the 'best' instant reaction when they are playing up and that is often something dangerous. I am just about to start a proper time out sort of thing and from what I've read I think it is worth doing around 2 years and the main thing is being consistent.