Death is very frightening and confusing for most children. The loss of a family pet is often a child’s first experience with death. Whether it’s a dog, cat, or even a goldfish, losing an animal can be traumatic, leaving youngsters afraid and confused. Though the death of a family pet is an understandably painful experience, it can provide an opportunity to give a child positive grief-coping skills that they will carry throughout life.
Every child is different. There is no one right way to explain death to a child. However, there are some guidelines that can help you make this experience as positive as possible:
As the saying goes, when talking to a child about the death of a pet, honesty is the best policy. Though it may be tempting to shield a child from the loss by telling them that Sparky is living his life out on a farm in the country, explanations such as these only cause confusion. Eventually the child will discover the truth, which can lead to mistrust. As plainly as possible, explain to your child that pet’s don’t live forever and that this was his or her time.
Be Mindful of Your Language
Children will use their own experiences to define what death means to them. Be mindful not to say things that might elicit fear. Explanations such as “Sparky went to sleep and never woke up” may seem to lessen the blow, but a child may worry that he or she won’t wake up the next time they go to sleep. In as plain English as possible, explain that animals have a much shorter lifespan than people. Talk about the illness or age of the deceased pet and explain that he or she no longer has to experience pain.
Provide Rituals to Say Goodbye to the Deceased Pet
Honoring your child’s deceased pet is an important part of the healing process. Ask your children how they would like to honor their pet. Whether it’s an informal service in your backyard, or a formal pet memorial service, providing a forum for your child to verbalize his/her feelings about the pet can go a long way towards healing.
Pain and confusion is an unavoidable reality when talking to kids about pet loss. However, when handled with delicate honesty it can benefit your children in the long run. At Entrusted Pet of Phoenix, Arizona, we focus on creating a positive experience for families whose pets have passed. To learn more, please give us a call at 602-430-6866 or visit us online to learn more: