Losing A Pet

As parents, one of the hardest things in life is watching our children experience pain and sadness. When a treasured family pet dies, many children are faced with their first introduction to death.

Death is a difficult subject for adults and when we struggle ourselves with the concept, it makes it even harder to know how best to handle explanations with our children. Religious beliefs definitely come into play when you determine how/what you will share, but following are some basic Do’s and Don’ts to consider.

DON’T

  • …tell children the animal was “put to sleep” or didn’t wake up from sleep. Children may develop a fear of sleeping themselves.
  • ….minimize the event by saying things like, “It was just a cat.”
  • ….stop talking about the pet. At first it may be painful but it’s an important step in being able to remember the happy memories and to show that there is value in all life.
  • ….tell children not to cry. Expressing their sadness is important.
  • …rush into getting another pet immediately. One animal does not replace another.

DO

  • …encourage children to talk about the pet that died and about their feelings.
  • …discuss dying, death, and grief honestly, but don’t dwell on it. Children may need only small amounts of information at first if they are very young.
  • …be clear about the permanence  of death.
  • …watch for signs children are struggling – loss of appetite, withdrawal, toileting lapses, nightmares or other sleep disruption.
  • …understand children may return to the subject repeatedly as they process the death.
  • …consider holding some kind of small “good-bye” ritual.
  • ….find a special way to remember the pet.