Pets are family — these four-legged loved ones provide their families with comfort, spirit, unconditional love, laughter and companionship. Death is just as real as love and laughter though and explaining to your child that their beloved companion and family member has died can feel impossible.
Use the following tips as guidance for telling your child about their pet’s death:
To break the news to your child, tell them that their pet has gone to heaven, or your word for the afterlife. Although we won’t see him or her here on Earth again, we will see them again one day. If your family has experienced a loved one who’s passed on, such as a beloved grandmother, tell your child that their pet is now up in heaven keeping grandma company. What you tell your child depends on your own religious beliefs, and you decide what “truths” you provide to help them handle the loss of their pet. Avoid telling kids a story such as the pet ran away. This is confusing and kids will only be disappointed since their pet never returns home. The truth isn’t always pleasant, but it’s the best way to tell your child about their pet’s death.
Memorialize the Pet’s Passing
Create a day of memory in honor of your pet. September 8th is the National Pet Memorial Day, so it’s a great day to choose, but you can also choose a date that is special just to you and your family. Annually honor the pet on the day of its birth or death. On this day of remembrance, the whole family can go to the site of the pet’s burial and leave handwritten notes while sharing fond memories of the animal. To make a real event of it, procure a flower delivery by FTD to adorn the pet’s grave.
Holding onto something tangible can help children with the grieving process, especially if the animal they are mourning slept in their bed or spent a good bit of time in their laps. Replace that loss of comfort by buying a stuffed animal your child can hold onto when they are feeling sad. It doesn’t have to look like their late pet or even be the same kind of animal. A soft and easy-to-hug stuffed pal can provide that comfort and friendship.
Help Children Express Feelings
Releasing emotions and expressing feelings is a healthy part of the grieving process. Ask your child to write a story or draw a picture that includes their departed pet. Encourage them to share their feelings by asking them to describe the story or picture. Remind them that they are loved, they can express their feelings at anytime without being judged, and being sad is OK.