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?