Helping Children Deal With The Death Of A Pet

The demise of a pet is often the first time that a child has to deal with the pain of bereavement. The pet is often much more than just an animal – it is also a friend and companion, so when the pet dies, it’s a sad and stressful event and children need help to deal with their grief. When approached in the right way, the death of a pet is a positive learning experience for children and will help them to deal with difficult times in the future.

Breaking the News: When telling a child that a pet has died, it’s always best to tell the truth. Don’t be tempted to say that the dog has gone to live elsewhere or the cat has run away. Be honest but break the news gently. Of course, how you choose to tell your child will depend largely on their age.

If your pet has been ill for a while then you can help children prepare for the pet’s death in advance so that it is not such a shock when it happens. If the vet has to put a pet down, children may be angry with their parents for letting this happen, particularly if they believed the pet was likely to recover. If your pet has been euthanised, explain to children that it was the most peaceful way to go and helped avoid further pain or suffering for your pet.

Answer their Questions: The death of a pet often leads to a series of big questions about where the pet is now and what happens after a human dies. Answer the questions as honestly as you can, again taking your child’s age into consideration. Your answers will depend on your own beliefs but if you are not sure, it’s okay to say “I don’t know”. The idea of an after-life can be reassuring for younger children but if you are not comfortable with it, you can always explain that different people believe different things.

Hold a Ceremony: While it’s not always possible to hold a burial for a pet, children still benefit from holding a ceremony for a pet that has passed away. Indeed, this can be a useful part of the grieving process for adults too. Allowing family members to say a few words about what the pet meant to them is therapeutic and helps kids voice the complex feelings they are experiencing. You could bury one of your pet’s favourite toys or plant a small tree or flower to celebrate the life of your pet.

Don’t Rush to Replace a Pet: While you may feel that the quickest way to help children get over the death of a pet is to find a replacement, it’s usually best to wait a few weeks before suggesting this. Children can be fiercely loyal to their pets and may feel that you don’t care if you suggest a replacement too soon.

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