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Helping children with the death of their Pets

created at: 2010/09/22Often times the death of a pet is a child’s first experience with loss. It can be a critical time to give your child a language to speak about death and ways of expressing their loss. Here are some guidelines to help you. 

How do I involve the kids in decisions about death and dying?

Kids have an inherent sense when changes occur in their environment. Be direct and honest. They are often devoted to their pets, so it’s important to include them in any decision-making. Avoid using the term “put to sleep” as they may equate sleeping with death wonder when their pet will wake up. Young kids under 4 don’t really know the difference between sleep and death- so be direct and say ‘our pet is very sick, and will not get better, they are going to die and because we love him and don’t want them to suffer we are going to help them as they die. ” Or ‘our pet has died’, and then use language appropriate to your beliefs about what happens after death. Kids 5 to 7 often think they are the cause of everything that happens in their life, so let them know that an illness or death isn’t or wasn’t their fault. Speak truthfully and plainly. Avoid telling kids their pet has run away, they will wonder why they left and may be left feeling abandoned. Honesty is best, tell them gently how it is and how much you love your pet and that you feel very sad because you will miss them and that its normal to feel sad and cry.

Use this time as an opportunity to talk about death

Kids don’t usually understand the permanency of death until they are 7 or 8. They will sometimes ask the same questions repeatedly, and may have what seems like a morbid fascination asking questions that might seem taboo to adults. Answer the questions as honestly and as directly as you can and go into as much detail as you feel comfortable with and that answers their questions.  Equip them with the knowledge that all living things must die.  That death is part of the cycle of life. That now is our pets time to die and we are here to do this as well as we can for them because that’s part of how we show them how much they mean to us.

Can kids be there when euthanasia takes place? 

As parents, the choice is yours- you know your kids best and your own abilities to support yourselves through the death of your much-loved pet. Children need to choose to attend. However if they are very well informed what is going to happen before, during and after they usually can handle the intense emotions and the euthanasia procedure that takes place. It can help them realise the passing, in a peaceful and loving environment is not scary and to see that death is a natural part of life. Being present, or having the procedure explained to them, provides them with an experience or narrative through which they can understand and explain in their own words the transition from life to death. This is the most valuable foundation upon which all subsequent experiences of death and loss will be built and from which they will grieve their love for and loss of their pet.

created at: 2010/09/22

Very young kids may well be present. They are more likely to upset by the distress or parents and siblings around them so, have a family member or good friend present. They can take care of them, so you and older kids are able to be fully present to supporting your pet and to give your hugs, kisses, reassuring words or goodbyes. For age appropriate responses to loss see children and grief

Have a ceremony 

Children do grieve although they don’t always express their grief in the way adults do. Allow them to see your own grief and sadness and explain to them why you are sad. This will give them a role model and permission to show their feelings. Hold a ceremony where each family member can express their loss and love for their pet in his or her own way. Kids may like to draw a picture or write a poem. Encourage them be actively involved in the funeral or memorial ceremony – to dress for it, to decorate the grave, to ask their friends or others who may have known their pet. Place a symbolic stone in the garden as a place kids can visit them and talk to them if they feel the need.

Resources

Let your kids teachers, school counsellor and other significant adults know that their pet has died so they can provide additional support if needed. Consider the help of a grief counsellor skilled in working with kids. 

When to get a new pet 

There is no right or wrong answer about new pets but be prepared to explain to children why it might be better to wait than to rush in with a new pet. Explain you need some time to adjust to life without your pet and to grieve them. When the time is right, involve your children in the selection and care of their new pet. Animals are the greatest healers of grieving hearts. When to consider another pet

Author Dr Barbara Fougere

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