Firmly drive home the 'be gentle' lesson. This is a lesson parents try to instill in their kids from the start. Being gentle with people, objects, and animals is such an important life lesson. Caring for a hamster really shows the kids firsthand that it's important to be gentle. Because hamsters are so small, it is easier for a child to understand exactly why being gentle is important. You would think that the gentle lesson would end with the hamsters. But that's not the case at all in our house. Once the kids started caring for hamsters, they became more gentle in other situations as well.
Animals have feelings, too. Before caring for a pet, many kids don't automatically assume or realize just how much a pet can feel. The first hamster my kids adopted taught this lesson very well. He came from a home where he was abused and neglected. Because of this, he was very sad and aggressive. My kids learned that with lots of love and attention, even the most vulnerable animals (and people) can change. Animals have feelings just like we do and when you don't acknowledge that, things can go very wrong very quickly.
Cleanliness matters. Because hamster cages must be cleaned at least once or twice per week, kids will quickly learn that cleanliness is key. Not only will the cage look and smell bad, but hamsters are not very happy when they have dirty cages. Cleaning the hamster cage consistently made my kids think deeper about cleaning their own spaces. I noticed them cleaning more often than usual without me asking once they started cleaning up after the hamsters.
Timing is everything. If you don't feed a hamster, clean the cage, and give fresh water on schedule, you're going to have a very tired, hungry, dirty (and possibly worse) hamster on your hands. My kids knew from the very beginning that these things and other routine care were a must. Staying on track with the hamster care has taught my kids to stay on track with other things as well.
Budgeting makes a difference. When the kids are made to track just how much a pet hamster eats, as well as what resources are used, it gets them thinking. I let my kids add up exactly how much food, bedding, treats, toys, and other necessities cost each month. Each child knows how much it costs to take care of their pet. We have a limit as to how many animals are allowed. The kids also know that the amount needed for pet care is a must in each month's budget. Once they reach a certain age, this amount (and any other hamster care fees necessary) will be their responsibility and they are aware of this. Not only does this help teach kids responsibility, but budgeting is a lesson they will need for survival.
*Please note that the author is not a licensed veterinarian or pediatrician. The advice and information contained herein is based solely on the author's personal experiences. Always talk to an appropriately licensed professional when it comes to the care of your kids and pets.
**I originally published a version of this via Yahoo Contributor Network