Like many kids, I grew up with pets. There were hamsters and turtles and fish and cats and dogs and chickens. Yes, chickens – remember I was a farm kid. So I tried to remember what it felt like when the pets died. I have vivid memories of some pets like my dog Boo and others not so much.
When a pet dies, the amount of information or what you say, depends on the child’s age, experiences, and maturity level. Offer your child a clear and simple explanation. Let your child’s questions guide the details you reveal.
Tell the truth. Use the actual words “death,” “dying,” or “died.” Be sure your child understands the pet’s body stopped working; it died; and will not be coming back. Do not say Baxter ran away when he really crawled in the garage and died. Do not say Penelope went to sleep and won’t wake up. Children take literally what you say and false statements will confuse them. Eventually your child will figure out you lied and that starts to complicate trust issues.
Sometimes there is a chance to say goodbye and if a child able to do so, that can be helpful. The family may want to observe the pet’s death in a special way. I remember wrapping pets in cloth, putting them in shoe boxes, and burying them in a special place. Every pet, no matter type or size, always got a burial ceremony. We talked about our pets, remembering the funny stories and antics.
And here’s one last tip. Don’t immediately get another pet. We don’t want children to think pets and people are replaceable. Wait until your child asks to get a new kitten. Then you can talk about how welcoming a new furry friend into your home is a way to honor the life of the pet that died.
Do you have a memory of a pet that died? How did your parents handle the situation? What have been your experiences with your own child?
Many of us have been a part of the ritual – a small box is buried under the shade tree in the back yard. This becomes the final place for our beloved canary or hamster. As parents we don’t like to think about the demise of these special members of our family, but death is a very real part of having a pet.
Pets have significantly shorter lifespans than people but some will be companions for a considerable number of years. So how do you help your child when a pet dies? A child’s reaction is tied to her age and development, previous experiences with death, as well as the intensity of attachment to the pet. Check out http://aplb.org/services/children.html for detailed information on the reactions of children at various ages. This is a link from The Associaton for Pet Loss and Bereavement.
As parents you can help your child honor and remember his pet in appropriate ways. Displaying photos, drawing pictures, telling stories, or holding a ceremony are possibilities.
Our family buried special dogs under the trees in the pasture where we imagined them running free. And I’ll admit to having a small urn in the closet containing my beagle’s ashes. Just the mention of Pearl’s name makes us all smile.
So how have you handled the death of pets in your family?
grief, pets, social-emotional
Horror – disbelief – anger – grief – sadness
People across this country and around the world experienced a wide range of emotion as news emerged of the indescribable tragedy in Connecticut. I, like many of you, reacted on many levels. I’m a mother, grandmother, and family life educator. I’ve spent a career working with families. I know personally the pain of sudden loss of life in my own family.
During the weeks and months ahead we will hear much about what causes these acts of violence and what should be done to prevent more. School safety systems, gun control, and mental health services will be hot topics of discussion. Politicians, law enforcement personnel, faith community leaders, and school administrators will attempt to define the problems and strategize solutions. Each of us has the opportunity and responsibility to weigh in on these important issues.
However, here in this blog, I want to focus on our roles as parents and grandparents. I want to bring the conversation into your home. Here is where we impact our children. As engaged parents, we must “be there” for our children. We use love and limits; we monitor their activities and whereabouts; we give them hope and aspirations for their future; we seek help when their needs surpass our abilities. We give soulful consideration to how we address violence – our language; interactions with others; choice of television shows, movies, games. And in doing so, we become part of the solution.
You will find many people offering ideas on how to help children. Let me suggest a few resources. Loss and grief- talking with children is an extension resource found at: http://www.extension.org/pages/9044/loss-and-grief-talking-with-children
Also check out these readings.
I would close my thoughts with the wish that you make your home a safe place. When everything and everywhere else seems scary, children need to know the comfort of a loving home. How are you providing comfort for your family in the aftermath of this recent tragedy?
grief, tragedy and disasters