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Is She Ready for a Pet?

Your 6-year-old is begging for a hamster, vowing that she'll take care of it all by herself. But is she really ready for a pet? Ask yourself:

Has your child spent time around animals? She may think she wants a pet until she gets nipped by a gerbil. If she's not used to animals, take her to visit a petting zoo, an animal shelter, or just your neighborhood pet shop and watch her reaction. She might even pet-sit for a friend to get a sense of the responsibility it requires.

Does she stick with tasks until they're complete? If she tends to get distracted in the middle of chores or homework, she may not be ready.

Is she responsible in other areas? Even young children are physically capable of pouring fish food, but your child should also show emotional maturity. Does she have self-control? Is she gentle and patient?

If you feel she's up to the challenge, help her prepare for pet ownership by researching the animal you plan to bring home; try the Humane Society. Both groups say lower-maintenance pets, such as fish, guinea pigs, and hamsters, are best for kids ages 5 to 8. And they say that children can't be expected to really care for a cat or a dog until they're at least 10.
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