Fido’s gone to the farm- helping your child deal with pet death
Having pets can be a glorious thing, especially for a child, it can teach them about unconditional love, responsibility and that you should never, ever, try and kiss a gerbil (my sister still bears the scars from that one). But ultimately your pet will die and it is horrible.
Hopefully pet death will be your child’s first experience of the loss of someone they loved (I faltered at using the word but honestly, a child is likely to have personified their pet to the point where their hamster has as much personality as Great Aunty Mabel, sometimes more), so this is a situation where parenting gets really tough, which leads me onto my first point:
How ever kind you’re trying to be Don’t lie to your kids. They can sense when you’re not being sincere and it is one of those occasions where even if they don’t find out the truth about ‘Fido going to the farm’ or remain hopeful of his return, they will know that something is amiss and this will increase their anxiety. I’ll include the physical aspect of this, some children find it helpful to see the body (or ashes if your pet has been put down and cremated) of their pet, looking the same but clearly gone.
Having said that there is no need to overload a young child with inappropriate details, you know how much and what info it is appropriate to tell your child and answer their inevitable questions with truthful answers omitting details if necessary.
Make the time and space to tell your child, in my experience children when told the news of a pet dying get very upset straight away, calm down relatively quickly, but then need to further re-visit the wheres and whys over the next few hours. So keeping activities at home, watching TV, reading books etc can give them the space to process this new information.
Involve your child in a funeral ritual such as reading or writing a poem, choosing a photo or drawing a picture to include in the burial, choosing a plant or bulbs to place over the top of the grave. As with all these things if your child does not want to take an active part don’t force them, everyone processes grief differently and no one way is right or wrong.
It’s OK for your child to know you’re upset, as this can help children understand that it’s OK for them to feel upset when about a pet death.by