Hamsters & Children
Filed in Small Animals, Hamster
Hamsters make great pets for children above the age of five and six, depending on maturity and activity levels - of both the hamsters and the children. You'll want to make sure that your child is ready to take on the responsibility of being a pet steward before giving him or her a pet hamster.
One way to help your child be successful as a hamster owner is to make sure that your child is prepared to hold a hamster, no matter what it does. Holding and supporting a living creature is not an easy thing to do for young children. Their paws often tickle little hands, or children are afraid of being bitten and the resulting plummet to the floor is no picnic for the hamster either. How can you ensure success?
Practice with a rolled up sock. Teach your child how to pick up, hold and put away the sock, just as if it were a real hamster. Next, move on to a moving object. Try one of those water-filled plastic squiggle tubes. That will give your little one a good feel for having an uncontrolled object in her hands. Also, make sure you discuss the possibility of your hamster biting your child. Prepare the child for the eventuality, but don't terrify them in the process. Let him know that hamsters don't see as well as we do and that they sometimes nip at things that they can't see well. Make sure your child knows not to take it personally AND not to drop the hamster if it happens.
Once you have a real hamster, retrain your child on the handling procedures. If your child is young, make a house rule that she can only hold the hamster if you are around to supervise. Sit your child in the middle of a large bed and place the hamster in his or her hands. This way, if the child drops the hamster, no one gets hurt. Give petting, feeding and picking up/putting down lessons too. Be specific and demonstrate for your child before having him do it alone. All of these strategies will help to ensure a good bond between your pet and your child.
Barron's Small Pet Handbook, David Taylor, 1996
The International Encyclopedia of Pet Care, David Alderton, Howell Book House, 1997
The Complete Hamster Guide website, created by Lorraine Hill.
Deirdre Kelly is a freelance writer, teacher and animal lover living in Florida.