By Michele C. Hollow of Pet News and Views
Our pets are family members, and losing a family member–even one with four legs–can be devastating. I know that I got ill when our cat of 21 years died. It was hard on me, my husband, and our child.
Children deal with death differently than adults. Children between the ages of 2 and 5 see death as temporary. I remember watching the Sesame Street episode where Mr. Hooper died. Big Bird was sad. Then the next day, he asked why Mr. Hooper was no longer at his store. When he was told that Mr. Hooper died, Big Bird got flustered and then mad. It was a moving show that really explained how kids that age feel about death.
Children between the ages of 5 and 9, start understanding death as permanent, and from 10 on up, children know that all living beings will eventually die. They also understand that death is final. Understanding death and accepting it are two very different things.
5 Tips on Explaining Death to a Child
1. Don’t tell a young child that you are putting an ill animal to sleep. That term is too vague, and it can make a child too afraid to go to sleep. Instead be honest. Explain why euthanasia may be the most humane option.
2. Ask your child what death and dying mean. Then as best as you can, explain it to him, and let your child know that the pet is not coming back.
3. Talk to your child, and let him know that he can talk to you about his feelings anytime. Ask him to write down his feelings or draw pictures. You may want to hold a memorial service to say goodbye, and have your child share his feelings at this ceremony.
4. Don’t hide your feelings from your child. You are grieving too. I know when my dad died I wanted to be strong around Jordon. I tried to hold it together as best as I could. I became incredibly cranky, until I finally fell apart. I think it is important for a child to see his parents cry; it actually encourages children to open up.
5. Tell you child’s teacher that the family pet died. This can clue your child’s teacher into your child’s behavior, especially if your child is acting differently.
Losing a pet is hard on everyone. The best remedies are to talk about the loss and the sadness, and to allow time for healing.