Learn how to deal with the death of a pet.
Losing a beloved pet can be very hard for our kids. Heck, it can be hard on all of us. For any of you with pets, the day will eventually come when you need to say goodbye. While we may have experience with death in our lives, for some of our kids this could be their first exposure to death and grief.
Our pet cockatiel, Baby (long story!), died recently. He hatched from his little egg into my home many years ago. He saw me through a divorce, several moves, job changes, and more. He was a cheerful little companion to me when I lived alone; I would walk in the door at the end of the day, and he would say hello. He was here when my husband and I started living together, and when we brought our son home from the hospital and became a part of my son’s life. He teased our little dog Spot by flying over him when he was napping, getting him to bark. Imagine my surprise one day when the two of them were walking side by side down the hallway to see me in my bedroom.
He was with me for 24 years!
Then, one day he was gone. A few hours before he died, I just knew. I stroked his little head and neck and told him I loved him and what a good bird he was. I tried to give him some little comfort.
We cried. We packed up his things. We placed him in a little box and had a funeral of sorts for him and buried him in our backyard.
How to Help Your Kids Cope
- I think that when a pet dies, the best thing we can do for our kids is be honest and accurate. We don’t need big long explanations. Another important thing is to avoid saying things such as "passed away" or "went to sleep" to describe death. For a young child, words like these may cause confusion or even a fear about going to bed at night. I remember when my grandmother died (I was six) and my mom said, “I am afraid she is gone.” I didn’t understand that grandma had died. I just thought mom was afraid that she would. It was the next day when I realized she was dead and I wouldn’t see her again.
- I also don’t agree with telling a child that their beloved pet ran away or has gone to live on a farm or similar story. They may wonder why their pet went away or if it was something they did. They may also wonder why their parents would give away something that meant so much to them and was a part of their family.
- Don’t be afraid to show your own grief or sadness in front of your kids. They will see it as a normal response to your loss. If you don’t show any emotion about your pet’s death, they may wonder why you don’t miss your pet.
- Talk about your feelings, and let your kids know that when they want to talk about their feelings, you will be there to listen. Sometimes it may take quite a while for kids to formulate their thoughts and feelings into words they can express.
- Kids may ask questions that we think are odd or inappropriate. Answer any question they have honestly and without any judgment. Usually their reactions are normal and healthy.
- Remember your pet. Do what feels right for you and your family. For us, it meant a little remembrance in our back yard. Share stories, make a scrapbook, draw a picture, or make a story book – ask your kids for ideas.
- Talk about your pet. Just because they are gone, it doesn’t mean we should forget them. Let your kids know that while it hurts now, the pain will be less and less as time goes on, but the good memories will always be with them.
Some will say, “Oh, it was just a dog (or a cat, bird, snake, whatever!).” I kind of feel sorry for these people because they have obviously never experienced the love that can be given to and received from our pets. For many kids (and adults), the pet is really a part of the family or even a best friend. They may be the first to greet us in the morning or when we come home. They can give us comfort when we are feeling sad or ill.
I really think that my sweet little feathered friend gave me more than I ever gave him. He will be missed very much.