So many people have asked me how to talk to children about the death of a pet.
There is no easy answer to this. I am not a counselor, and I have no formal training in child development. I am a veterinarian with a small child and these are some pointers from my perspective. If you are having a hard time discussing death with your child, I recommend that you contact a professional therapist for help.
Have an adult family meeting ahead of time so you are all on the same page.
-It may cause fear and confusion to hear different answers from different people
-If there are major differences in opinion – talk about them, kids need to know that it is ok to feel differently
-This is especially true when it comes to religious influence, do you believe in an afterlife? does your child? does their peer group? This is an opportunity to talk about respecting the beliefs of others.
Use the word “Death”
-Phrases like “put to sleep” can cause a child to fear going to sleep themselves or others trying to get some shut eye
Set up a special ritual or time and space to say Goodbye
-Some kids need time alone, others want to talk about how they feel. Be open and patient with their feelings.
Set up a way/time/space to remember
-Everyone needs to continue to grieve, give them a safe place/time to do it
If they are able and want to be present for the euthanasia, let them.
-This really depends on the age and maturity of the child. Talk to your veterinarian about it, but generally speaking, the act of euthanasia is peaceful and can be helpful in the grieving process.
Use resources on line and in libraries for more ideas
–http://beingbraveforbailey.com – This book aims to help children cope with the euthanasia of a beloved pet. It was written by a family veterinarian (and friend of mine) and it has helped my daughter deal with our recent loss.
Talk to your veterinarian and allow your child to ask questions as well.
-We have all been through it, and we are here to help you
Dr Kate Levey