Children can be deeply affected by the loss of a pet and on some occasions it will be the first time they have experienced bereavement.
Young children may have a number of questions about death, so it is important to allow them to talk about their feelings and answer their questions as best you can. Depending on your child’s age, the language you use can be very important; using phrases such as ‘put to sleep’ can be confusing for young children. Use straightforward words, although it may be hard to say, using the word ‘died’ is simple to understand.
For some children, it can help to draw pictures of their pet, write a poem or create a memory box of photos and toys. These can help children to celebrate their pet’s life rather than focus on the finality of death.
If your pet is ill and unlikely to recover, it is recommended to discuss this with children to allow them time to prepare for the loss, ask any questions and give them time to say goodbye. In some instances, a child may not have been able to say goodbye to their pet, so you may want to think about holding a celebration of life ceremony at home to help your child accept their pet’s death – such as allowing your child to write a message to their pet and tying it to a helium-filled balloon for it to float off into the sky.
If you are choosing to bury your pet at home, allow children to be a part of this, such as creating a grave marker, planting a remembrance tree or flower, or even helping to dig the pet’s resting place. If you would prefer cremation, it may help children to choose where to scatter the ashes, or they may opt to keep the ashes in a special place. Whichever option you choose, it is important to take your child’s wishes into account too.
Most importantly, don’t stop your children from talking about their pet or expressing their emotions. Try to help them to focus on the good memories they shared together and the special place they hold in their hearts.