There is no doubt that pets can teach our kids so much about life. They can bring much joy and also much heartbreak.
Death is inevitable for all living things and is a part of life we must learn to accept. Having pets can help kids learn more about this concept and how to cope.
Pets are often considered a part of the family and are a companion kids turn to in a time of need. Helping kids learn to deal with the loss of a pet will help them learn to deal with other losses throughout life.
Breaking the news to your kids can be tough. You should choose a quiet time, free from distractions when they’re in a familiar place.
Adapt your language and details according to your child’s age and maturity level. Be guided by their questions as to the degree of information you give.
Explain that your pet will soon be at peace. Try not to say that the pet will be “put to sleep”. This can confuse young children and they may fear going “to sleep” at night themselves in case the same thing happens to them!
- If your pet is old or ill, talk about the possibilities of your pet dying in the near future. Prepare them for what may soon happen, but encourage them to enjoy time with their pet while they are still here.
- If your pet has to be “put down”, explain that your pet was never going to recover, it is the kindest way to stop the pet’s pain, that the vet has done all they can to help and that the pet will die without feeling any hurt.
- If kids request details of the euthanisation process, explain that the vet will give it a needle that will firstly put the pet to sleep, which will then stop its heart from beating.
- If children are emotionally mature, they may wish to be with the pet when it dies. It is fair to let them if they wish, but only you can judge whether your child will be able to cope with this.
- If a pet’s death is more sudden, tell your kids truthfully and calmly what happened. Details do not need to be in-depth however be guided by their questions.
- Never say that the pet has run away, been taken or tell some kind of lie. It gives the kids a false hope of the pet returning again, plus they may resent you if they found out you have lied to them.
- Try to explain the concept of ‘dog years’ and how they are much shorter than ‘human years’.
- Bury your pet with a special ceremony to help finalise the dying process. Allow your kids to plan this and what they may like to include in the burial.
- For example, they may wish to bury the pet with its favourite toy or a goodbye letter they have written. They may like to plant a special tree in their pet’s favourite spot in the garden. This will help them with the grieving process.
- At the burial, take the time to share some fun times and experiences they have had with the pet, fond moments and even create a scrapbook in memory of the pet.
- Create a unique memorial for your pet in your home. Your kids could draw pictures to hang, write about the wonderful experiences they have had together and display their favourite photo of their pet.
- Some books are available to read with your kids about dealing with the loss of a pet. Ask your librarian or bookstore for an age appropriate book to read together. This can sometimes help kids to open up and talk about how they are feeling.
- Be there to talk to your kids and let them know it is natural to feel all sorts of emotions when something special dies.
- Express your feelings and emotions about the death too. It shows your kids that it is okay to talk about the death and that you feel the loss as well.
- Share stories about when you were young and some of the special pets you had, and lost. Explain how you found it hard to say good-bye to them also, but as time passed by the pain decreased.
- Give your kids as much affection and comfort they desire.
- Talk about your pet often and with love. Always remember the happy memories together.
- As you notice the pain starting to go away and the shock has faded, it might be time to move on. Consider getting a new pet to add to your family.
While you would never want to replace your last pet, you may wish to welcome another animal in to your lives to love and enjoy.