Dealing With the Death of a Pet
Helping your kids deal with the death of a beloved family pet is a challenging parental experience but it’s also a time when you can teach your kids about healthy ways to deal with loss and accept death as a natural part of life. These are very important life lessons so here are some things to keep in mind when discussing the death of a pet.
Keep Explanations Simple and HonestIt’s natural for kids to ask a lot of questions about death, a complex subject that evokes mixed feelings in many grown people as well. Let kids ask as many questions as they want, don’t try to change the subject or tell them they are too young to understand. Avoid telling them their pet ran away or other answers without a sense of finality, as children need some sense of closure on this subject. Phrase answers in as simple a form as you need to, but help them understand that death is something that happens to everyone, that their pet is not coming back and passing on is a natural way of life. Let them know that mourning their loss is healthy and nothing to be ashamed of, and their pet dying has nothing to do with anything they said, thought or did, as many kids feel guilty over their pet’s death. You may have to explain the same thing several times to young children, so be patient.
What to AvoidIn younger children, avoid phrases to explain death that involve sleep, such as “We are putting Fluffy to sleep”. Children are very literal thinkers and this may lead them to a fear of going to sleep and not waking up or the thought that their pet may wake up some day. Anything to do with the pet being ‘taken’ is an unpleasant association, especially if it’s in a religious way and related to God as kids may interpret this in a negative or uncaring way. Saying a pet ‘went away’ can touch on feelings of abandonment as well. Long, vague philosophical discussions on death in answer to a child’s questions will only confuse and dismay them, keep your answers about death direct, honest and as short as possible.
Every Child is DifferentSome kids will have an immediate reaction, cry and show visible signs of sorrow. Other children may look completely unaffected at first, only to ask loss related questions weeks or even months later. Every child responds to loss in their own unique way, there’s no need to worry if your child doesn’t seem to feel their pets passing when you first talk to them about the subject. In their own time, they will have questions for you. Many children deal with the loss of pets through games and play, so don’t be alarmed if you see the subject of death reoccurring in their playtime, this is perfectly healthy and normal.
Don’t Try and Replace PetsTrying to replace a pet immediately with a new animal in order to relieve feelings of loss in kids is well intentioned but can trigger quite the opposite effect and is unfair to the new pet as well. Some children are ready for a new pet immediately and other kids are only ready to accept a new animal into their lives after they have finished mourning their old pet. Talk with your kids about how they are feeling about having a new pet in their lives and listen to what they say rather than springing a new pet on them as a surprise.
Aiding the Healing Process
- Help kids make a scrapbook or diary about their pet as both a memento and a way to release their feelings of grief.
- Have a burial ceremony, ritual or some way to celebrate the life and passing of their pet.
- Get kids to write a poem or story about the way the loss of their pet makes them feel.
- Talk about how a pet you loved died and what you did to make yourself feel better.