There is nothing quite like the joy of a child that shares a special bond with an animal. Pet ownership can positively affect your children in many ways, but the departure of a pet is often a child’s first real experience with death. Telling a child about the death of a pet can be very difficult, but some parents use this opportunity as an educational moment to talk about the cycle of life. Keep reading our article to learn more about talking to kids about the death of a pet, so you can use this sorrowful occasion to teach your children how to cope and constructively understand loss.
Determining Maturity Level
Children are capable of so much more than we know, but a young child will react differently to death than a child who is approaching adolescence. The age of your child will dictate the way you approach the death of a pet. It is important that you never lie about death or allow your child to believe that death is not permanent, as these notions could inhibit your child from reaching a state of acceptance or understanding. You should also avoid saying “put to sleep,” as this phrase could cause small children to fear sleep.
Circumstantial Talking Points
If your pet is dying of an illness or old age, you may take this opportunity to prepare your child before the death takes place. You might explain to your child that the pet was never going to recover and putting him or her down is the kind way to end any pain or suffering. Although the thought of bringing a child to the animal hospital may seem unsuitable, some families decide to include their children throughout the euthanasia process. If your children ask questions about euthanasia, you can tell them that the veterinarian administers a shot that will put the pet to sleep until the heart stops beating. This peaceful description is truthful and may comfort your child in knowing that the pet died without any pain.
Discussing Advanced Age
Explaining the concept of “cat years” or “dog years” versus “human years” is another great way to explain why pets leave this life so much sooner than we do. Most children cannot understand that animals have a higher metabolism that makes them age much faster than humans. Describing your pet’s life as long and well lived may also help your children come to terms with the loss, especially as it is happening. Make the pet’s final moments as special and as memorable for your children as possible, so they remember the pet with more joy than they do sadness.
Creating Closure for a Child
You and your family might choose to throw a special ceremony for the pet. Burials or ash scattering ceremonies will allow children one last opportunity to say farewell or commemorate the pet by burying collars, leashes, or toys. Some families plant flowers or trees to memorialize deceased pets and provide a special space for the children to visit.
Talking to kids about the death of a pet is as easy for some as it is painful for others. It’s important to be open and honest about your feelings and attitudes toward death so that your children know that it is okay to talk about death. You may share stories from your own childhood experiences or create a scrapbook to celebrate all the loving years you shared with your furry family member.