For many children, a family pet passing away is their first experience with death. While this is a sad event, it is an opportune time for parents to help their child through this grieving process so they can learn how to cope with losses to come as they grow older. Here are some tips:
- Is your pet old or ill? Talk to your kids about the possibility of the pet passing away before death occurs. If you have to euthanize – let your child know that your family and the vet have done everything they can and the pet will not be in pain anymore. Be careful not to use the words “go to sleep” as kids can take this term literally and this can lead to unnecessary fears in the future.
- Was the pet’s death sudden or unexpected? Explain what happened briefly, and calmly. Allow your child to ask questions to steer where the conversation goes.
- Break the news in a one on one situation– This will help your child feel comfortable and safe. It also ensures they are not distracted and can understand what you are telling them.
- Avoid lying– While it may seem easier to say that Fido went to live on a farm or Boots ran away, this does little to help the situation. Your child will still grieve the loss of their pet and if they find out the truth, they’ll be upset with you for being deceptive.
Parents should understand that it’s okay to show your child that you are sad, too. Being open about your emotions sets a good example for your child and also helps them to feel less alone in their sorrow. Keep in mind that children also grieve differently than adults, usually alternating quickly from extreme sadness to laughing and playing as if nothing has happened. “I typically suggest that families have the child, if age appropriate, draw a picture or write a story about the pet, or at least share stories about the pet. Make sure to check back in with the child periodically over the ensuing days and weeks to see how they are feeling and don’t forget to keep talking about the pet, if the child wants to,” says pediatrician, Dr. Joanne Samant. Ultimately, letting your child know you are there to comfort them and speaking kindly and often about your pet will help all of you through this difficult time.
About Joanne Samant, MD
Dr. Joanne Samant has always been interested in health and learning how the human body works. As a child, she would even go to the library and take out books on diseases. “One time the librarian pulled me aside and asked me if I was worried if I had a particular disease,” she explains. “I remember I said I just liked reading about them…I guess I have always found medicine fascinating.”
During her medical training, Dr....View profile View posts by this doctor