Talking to Your Kids About the Death of a Pet
Wednesday, September 16, 2015 8:00:00 AM America/New_York
Pets and children are a natural, loving combination. A pet's departure is often a child's first real experience with death, and parents can use the occasion as a teaching moment about the cycle of life and learning how to cope. Telling a child a pet has passed away is a difficult, but very important discussion that is best done in a familar and quiet space. The Child Development Institute offers helpful tips on how to accomplish this constructively.
The age of the child will dictate the words that need to be used, but a parent should never lie about the event or allow the child to believe death is not permanent. The phrase "put to sleep" should also be avoided as small children may fear going to sleep and not waking up.
If a pet is dying of an illness or old age, children can be prepared before the death occurs. Explaining that the pet is not going to recover and will soon be free of pain is usually enough for understanding and acceptance. If the pet must be euthanized, asking children if they wish to be present is a way to respect their feelings about the pet while helping them face the reality of its death. When a pet dies unexpectedly, it is best to be calm and honest about the event without going into too many details.
One confusing aspect of pet loss to children is not understanding how the aging process works for them. Kids often cannot comprehend that animals have a higher metabolism that causes them to age must faster than humans. While an older child will probably not require an explanation, a younger one will benefit from learning about "dog years" to come to terms with the loss.
If possible, burying the pet in a special ceremony will help to finalize the event. Allow kids to include collars, leashes, toys and and farewell letters and offer to plant a tree to mark the burial site. Inside the house, a special photo or other memorial can be put on display to help children remember their special friend. Reading books about pet loss together will help kids move along in the grief process.
Children feel grief deeply but will move on quickly. Being open to communication about the loss and allowing kids to openly express their emotions is a healthy approach to the loss of a pet. Parents may also benefit by sharing their own experiences about special animal friends and how they felt when their pets passed away. When it seems that children have resolved their grief, it may be a good time to suggest adopting a new pet into the family.
The companionship and unconditional love of a pet is something that will stay with a child forever. Letting children know that death is part of a larger spiritual journey will help them cope and move forward.