Sep 17th, 2009, 01:25 PM
My kids accidentally crushed their hamster, but at 5 and 6 years old, they're too young to know. (I just told them she'd bitten into her lip.) To further protect them, I told them the veterinarian said she was fine but that she was not allowed to leave the hospital and was happy to be with her friends. I may be projecting—the sight of the hamster dying was awful to me, and it took two days to get over the depression. Some people think I should not "lie and pretend," as they put it, by not allowing the children to "deal with the death." I find it absolutely abhorrent to think of my children discovering that they were responsible for their pet's death, when I, their father, could not go to sleep due to grief.
I can almost promise you that after your kids were finished squeezing, sitting on, or hugging really, really hard their darling hamster, and it just lay there looking like a bloodied, dying hamster, even at 5 and 6, they pretty much knew, "Uh-oh, I think we killed the hamster." Your reassurance that the hamster had a lip boo-boo and is now recovering at an extended-care facility has probably only imparted the confusing lesson that their hamster has Wolverine-like healing powers. (Your story must be the rodent equivalent of telling the kids the dog has gone to "live with people in the country" when it's actually just gotten a shot of Fatal-Plus.) I understand that you're stuck on an emotional hamster wheel, but you've got to get off and tell the truth. When you explain to your kids what really happened, you don't want to be either punitive or despondent. You need to tell them that small, furry creatures require gentle handling. Sadly, their hamster died because they were accidentally too rough with it. If they cry, comfort them, and if they're shockingly blasé, accept it. Answer simply but honestly any questions they have. If they want to know where the hamster is now, tell them the vet takes away the bodies of the dead animals. If they ask whether the hamster was in pain, you can explain that it was but the pain didn't last long. And if they say they want another hamster—well, Dad, see if you can cross that Rainbow Bridge when you come to it.