Pets are part of the family, and when a beloved pet dies it can be incredibly emotional and upsetting for everyone. Losing a pet is often a child’s first experience of bereavement. As difficult as this is, it’s an important learning moment. Here are some tips to keep in mind when you’re helping a child to cope with their pet dying.
Use clear, simple language
Children will need a clear explanation to help them make sense of what’s happened. Keep the information you give simple and truthful, and use words they can understand. Avoid using euphemisms like ‘gone to sleep’ or ‘lost, instead say ‘dead’ or ‘died’. This helps to stop children becoming confused.
Talk about what ‘dying’ means
Explain to your child that all living things die – leaves, plants, trees and our pets. This is an important step in their eventual understanding of death. It also can be helpful to explain that when an animal dies it’s no longer hungry, thirsty, tired or cold and that it won’t feel any pain. This is a tricky subject, and it’s worth trying to make it a general topic of conversation before a death occurs.
Label your feelings
Make sure your little one understands that they may feel sad, worried or even angry about what’s happened. Explain that it’s important to remember these are all normal emotions to experience when someone has died. Younger children will need your help to label how they’re feeling – so saying things like ‘I think you’re feeling sad because Pickles died’ can be useful.
Focus on happy times
It can take time to feel less sad about a pet that’s died, but focusing on the happiness you shared and doing activities that your child enjoys can help them to start feeling better. Reassure them that it will get easier to remember good times with their pet, and that feeling better is okay.
By discussing the death of your pet as a family and listening to your child’s feelings, you’re laying the foundations for how they’ll deal with loss throughout their lives. You could encourage little ones to express how they feel through talking, writing, drawing or even making a memory box filled with special things that remind them of their pet to help them to process the experience.