The death of a pet is hard on the whole family, but how it is handled with children is worth a little extra thought. The death of a pet is a teachable moment. Parents and adults have the opportunity to show children how to handle adversity, express emotion, and give and receive comfort.
Experts tell us to be honest but gentle. Do tell the child what happened in simple but clear terms. Using words like asleep or gone can confuse children who are more literal than adults. This is a time to help the little ones see that death is a part of the cycle of life.
Share your feelings and encourage the child to share how they feel. Talk about the memories of happy times with the pet. Include the kids in planning a burial or memorial ceremony for their pet.
Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know… I don’t know why… I don’t know where … I don’t know.”
Above all give the gift of time. Slow down. Feel the loss. Give a hug.
The death of a pet is often a child’s first experience with death. Honor the significance of the loss. Ignoring the death and moving along with business as usual without an appropriate pause may send a confusing message to a child. If our cat doesn’t matter do I? If I feel sad and everyone else is just going along as though nothing happened, am I wrong to feel sad? What you do is even more important than what you say.
Acknowledge the loss. Gather together. Share stories. Honor the contribution to the family.