How to Tell a Child About the Death of Pet Without Lying
One of the most difficult conversations that a parent has to face during their child’s youth is the one that arises as the result of the death of a pet. For young children, this is often their first experience with a concept that’s so very difficult to grasp, while older kids who understand the concept of death but have never been faced with it can be devastated by the passing of a beloved pet. Figuring out how to break the news gently but honestly can be daunting, but it’s also an important part of your child’s development. Rather than pretending that Fido ran away to escape this complicated discussion, here are a few tips for addressing the issue openly.
- Keep it Age Appropriate – Depending on your child’s age, he may not be able to properly understand what death is or what it means. Before the age of five, most children think of death as something that can be reversed or is impermanent, so your child may ask several times where his dog is and when he’s coming back, even after you’ve explained that Fido died. For older kids, the concept tends to be clearer and may require less general explanation. Whatever your child’s age, it’s best to avoid any graphic details and make the process seem as peaceful as possible to avoid trauma.
- Prepare Kids For Impending Death or Euthanasia – In the case of an aging or ailing pet whose death is inevitable, it’s best to explain what’s happening and give your child the opportunity to say goodbye. This is especially true when children are old enough to understand what death is, as they’re likely to be hurt and angry if their beloved pet is unexpectedly euthanized. Even kids that theoretically understand death tend to believe that most illnesses are reversible and that their pet will recover, so it’s essential to explain that some conditions have no cure.
- Be Careful With the Term “Put to Sleep” – Euphemisms for euthanasia or death like “put to sleep,” or “went to sleep” can be very confusing for young children and can cause them to panic about going to sleep at night, or at the prospect of anyone being “put to sleep” through anesthesia. Rather than allowing kids to draw an association between sleeping and dying, avoid the use of these euphemisms altogether.
- Let Kids Ask Questions – Kids ask questions about everything, and the death of your pet will be no exception. While it’s not a good idea to get into the gory details, it’s also best not to evade your kid’s questions. Let them know that it’s okay to ask any questions, and that you’ll answer them as honestly as you can.
- Admit That You Don’t Have All the Answers – One of the questions that kids will inevitably ask is what happens after we die, and what is happening to Fido. If you’re a family of faith, you may want to take this time to explain that your faith tells you that certain things happen after someone dies. If you’re not, it’s okay to tell your kids that you don’t have all of the answers, and that what happens after we die is one of life’s grand mysteries.
- Assure Them That it’s Not Their Fault –Your child may think that the death of his pet could have been avoided if he’d done something differently, or that his actions caused the event. Assuring him that he is not responsible for Fido’s death and that it’s absolutely not his fault can help kids process the death and their feelings about it without any accompanying guilt.
- Use Books to Help Kids Understand – Many of childhood’s difficult issues are tackled in picture books, and the death of a pet is certainly not excluded. Reading a story about the death of a pet and what it means can help your child understand what’s occurred, and begin to heal.
When you break the news of a pet’s death to your child, it’s both natural and acceptable to show emotion. Openly discussing your sadness and how it’s okay to be sad helps your child process the situation and understand that it’s okay for him to grieve as well. After you’ve shared the news, it may help your child to understand how to process it by sharing memories of your own childhood pets and their passing. Also, keep in mind that every child will show grief differently.← 5 Fun Foods to Pack for Kids Lunches | Tips For Teaching Kids About Compassion →
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