Helping Kids Deal With a Pet Loss
If you decide to include furry friends in your household, it is probable that you will be faced with the prospect of explaining their deaths to your children at some point. Many people are concerned that they will unnecessarily frighten their children if they simply tell the truth about death, and therefore they often end up glossing over the issue by telling the children that the pets have gone to Heaven and leaving it at that.
Find the Right Words
Explanations concerning the deaths of pets should be age-appropriate, of course, and for many, a pet’s death is their first experience with major loss. Toddlers may not have clear concepts of what death actually is, but they are quite capable of feeling extreme sadness at the loss of their pet as well as picking up on the emotions of the adults and other children in the household. One of the worst things that you can do is to minimize your toddler’s reaction to the death of a pet because this may set the stage for how the child deals with loss for the rest of his or her life.
If the animal has been or is to be euthanized, terms such as “put to sleep” should not be used because it may cause very young children to fear going to sleep. If at all possible, make certain that the child has the opportunity to say goodbye to the pet. Explain to the child that the pet is in a great deal of pain and that euthanasia is the humane option. Be certain to answer all of the questions that the child has honestly.
Toddlers may be confused at first, and it is not at all unusual for them to believe that the pet is going to return. The only way to deal with this in a healthy manner is to simply be consistent and patient. You may have to explain numerous times to your child or children that the pet will not be coming back.
Older children in particular may wish to be with the pet during the euthanasia process. If a strong bond existed between the child and the animal, it would be cruel to deny this. The child will also be able to see that the pet died peacefully and without pain. Some veterinarians set age limits on when children are allowed to be present at the time of euthanasia.
If the animal died as the result of an accident, there will be no chance to emotionally prepare the child for its death or to allow them the chance to say goodbye. When explaining to your child that their pet has been killed in an accident, try to do so in a place where the child feels safe and where there will be a minimal amount of distractions. As with the case of euthanasia, answer any questions that the child has as honestly as possible. Also, older children in particular may clam up during the initial after learning that a favorite pet has died, so keep the lines of communication open in coming weeks to discuss the situation further. Holding a funeral for the pet is an excellent way to honor the life of the animal and the part that if played in your family.
Some parents are reluctant to ever speak of the pet again in case doing so causes the child to experience emotional pain, but pretending that the animal never existed isn’t healthy either. It’s perfectly acceptable to continue to display family photos that include the pet and to speak fondly and even humorously about it in the months and years to come. After all, the pet will live on as one of your children’s best childhood memories — and that’s one of the major reasons why you got it, isn’t it?
About the Author
Kaitlin Gardner currently lives in Pennsylvania and is married to her best friend. In her spare time, she loves to go hiking , hand with her family and friend and enjoy nature.