The death of a pet can be an experience of sorrow and confusion. But also, growth. If you’ve never discussed the life cycle before, it can be tricky to know where to start. Pointing out happenings in nature on a regular basis is a great way to encourage discussion around all parts of the life cycle, such as when the seasons change or when a plant or insect dies.
If the subject comes about suddenly, here are some valuable tips to help you begin.
How to Help Kids Deal with the Death of a Pet:
- A child’s experience may be different than your own. Even though you’ve had this animal for 14 years, your toddler is unlikely to feel quite as attached. Alternatively, the fish that you just flushed might have been your little’s very, very best friend.
- Know what you are going to say before you start. Planning a few simple points can be helpful in taking you through what could be an emotional conversation (for you and/or the child).
- Use real words. Euphemisms like ‘losing a pet’ or ‘putting him to sleep’ can be very confusing for a child. Even very religious sentiments like ‘God took Rex’ might sound a little scary to your child and lead to thoughts like, ‘What if God takes you next?’ or ‘If we lost him, let’s go find him!’ or ‘I don’t want to go to sleep tonight if I’m never coming back.’
- Stick to the facts. Mr. Kitty’s body isn’t working anymore. He is dead now. He won’t be drinking or eating anymore and he doesn’t feel anymore, so he is not hurting.
- It’s final. Kids might not realize that death is final. The fish won’t end up back in the bowl tomorrow. They may ask you the same questions a few times. It’s not that they weren’t listening, they just need time to understand.
Don’t be surprised if they play ‘death’ for a while. Also, it can be helpful to make a memory book about the pet or to do a small ceremony to mark the death of the pet. Your child might have some wonderful ideas about how to do just that.