Children and Pet Death
Helping your child understand the death of a pet can seem difficult, but the most important point is to be as honest and direct as possible. Use of the terms “put to sleep” or “went to live on a farm” can be confusing and often damaging to children. Use “Sammy has died” or “We love Sammy and don’t want her to suffer, we are going to help her die so she doesn’t feel sad anymore” will help your child understand the difference between death and sleep. They may feel guilt or rejection if they do not understand where their pet went.
Children often believe that everything that happens in their lives is because or for them. Including your child in the process of euthanasia will help them understand that they did not cause the illness or death. Although some children do not wish to be present for the procedure, try to have them help their pet before and have them say goodbye afterwards. Do not force this on them if they don’t wish, but it can give you an opportunity to explain to them what is going on.
It’s important to talk to your children about the idea of death and answer all their questions, despite how repetitive or morbid they may seem. Answer them honestly, without being graphic as their perception of death may still be forming. They need help understanding that death is permanent and their pet will not come back one day.
Don’t forget to let your children see that you are grieving. By showing children your emotions you will help them understand that grieving is okay and that they are allowed to express their emotions as well. Children do not always grieve the same way as adults and you may see them telling stories or pretend play. Both of you may find it helpful to put on a pet memorial service, or even have a picture of your pet for your child’s room.
Many children may want to replace their pet immediately. This is a personal decision that your entire family needs to make. You may find that you are ready right away, but for others it may take months. Help your children understand that they need time to remember their pet who has died and you do not need a “replacement” pet, instead you will take the time to find a new member of your family/best friend. When you are ready, let your children be involved in selecting a new pet. At this point they may ask more questions or relate additional memories about the pet that died.
If your child needs additional support, find a professional specializing in pet loss.