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The cat in I Am a Cat calls the children 'dear little things':

The children, dear little things, now trot off, day after day, to kindergarten: but on their return, they sing songs, bounce balls and sometimes hang me up by the tail.
I Am a Cat, chapter 1

But even in that quote we see that they don't treat the cat well - they 'hang me up by the tail'. And we see earlier, as well, that the cat and children don't get along so well:

There are two children, one of five and one of three: they sleep in their own room, sharing a bed. I can always find a space between their bodies, and I manage somehow to squeeze myself quietly in. But if, by great ill-luck, one of the children wakes, then I am in trouble. For the children have nasty natures, especially the younger one. They start to cry out noisily, regardless of the time, even in the middle of the night, shouting, “Here’s the cat!” Then invariably the neurotic dyspeptic in the next room wakes and comes rushing in. Why, only the other day, my master beat my backside black and blue with a wooden ruler.
I Am a Cat, chapter 1

So... why does the cat call the children 'dear little things' if they treat the cat so badly?

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He's most likely being sarcastic.

I'm having trouble finding anywhere else where the cat uses that kind of direct sarcasm, but such sarcasm definitely fits with the style of ironic verbal abuse that comprises most of his narration:

But however ugly I may be, there’s no conceivable resemblance between myself and that queer thing which my master is creating [in his bad watercolor painting]. First of all, the coloring is wrong. My fur, like that of a Persian, bears tortoiseshell markings on a ground of a yellowish pale grey. It is a fact beyond all argument. Yet the color which my master has employed is neither yellow nor black; neither grey nor brown; nor is it any mixture of those four distinctive colors. All one can say is that the color used is a sort of color.

I Am A Cat (p. 8). Kindle Edition.

The structure of the sentence also fits with a sarcastic interpretation. If you leave off the last bit, it says "The children, dear little things, now trot off, day after day, to kindergarten: but on their return, they sing songs, bounce balls [...]". Without the last bit, they do sound like dear little things, nice children who trot off to kindergarten for fun and learning, then return home and enjoy an idyllic afternoon of singing and bouncing balls. But the cat then slips in at the end that they sometimes hang him up by the tail, which is not dear or idyllic at all; it's something that nasty little children who will probably grow up to be serial killers would do.

The line also plays into the narrative conceit of the book. The cat is privy to all sorts of things that no human knows about, because he can go anywhere unnoticed, like a fly on the wall. Maybe even more unnoticed—I swat at flies if I see them, but I wouldn't chase off a cat. To anyone else, the children probably do seem like dear little things with their songs and their balls, but the cat knows something more about them, that they're also little monsters who hang him up by his tail and pitch him out of bed.

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