Dealing with the death of a pet is never easy, especially when this death has to be explained to a child. Learn some helpful tips on what to say when a pet dies.
While most furry mammals life at least a few years, some species of reptiles can live their whole life in less than one. If you’ve got a pet-friendly house, you might want to give your kids just the pet they’ve fallen in love with, whether via a textbook or a TV show. However, if you don’t know what to say when a pet dies, you could be stuck trying to explain a heady concept with your grieving kid sooner than you’d expected.
When a pet dies, it’s hard to know what to say. Here are 5 ways to tackle the issue to keep peace at home while being open with your child.
1. Talk About Your Faith
If you have a religious family, this is a great opportunity to talk about your faith and help them to understand how things play out relative to everyday life. If there are lessons from Sunday school that you can use, roll them out now.
If you’ve heard your children talk about God, angels, or heaven, you know they already have a concept of these things. While you might not think that dogs really go to heaven, it might be a useful analogy for now. If you do, then that’s all the more reason to have this conversation.
Talking about faith early helps kids to understand the meanings of the concepts before adulthood. They can form their own relationship with God through understanding the afterlife via the story of their own loss.
2. Explain The Cycle of Life
If you’d prefer a more scientific approach, you can start talking about the cycle of life now. If all grandparents are still alive, this could be your child’s first run-in with loss of this kind.
Ask them about their understanding of the cycle of life and aging. This can help you to fill in gaps and also help your child to come to their own understanding of death.
The cycle of life is taught early in school, often through caterpillars and butterflies. These can be useful analogies if your child already has a grasp on this concept. Otherwise, you could be the first to draw the line from baby to grandparent.
Don’t be afraid to break out a science book or check out a YouTube video. Even a simple nature video will be able to help them come to an understanding that life slows down as we age and there’s a possibility of death.
Death is a difficult concept to grasp but the loss of your beloved pet could be a useful way to finally introduce them to this concept.
3. Tell Them About Illness Versus Relief
Another thing that children don’t always understand is that illness can be permanent. Kids quickly understand sickness, like chicken pox or a cold, as debilitating and obstructing. What they don’t understand is that not everyone can bounce back the way they can.
If your pet has been ill for awhile or has had mobility issues, explain to them how their pain works. Tell them about how not every plant or animal can recover from a wound, a sickness, or an injury.
Explain how at times, death is much better than suffering with the problem. If your child is old enough, you can explain the dignity of a life without suffering. You can help them to understand why it’s much more dignified to be able to move on your own terms than to be stuck in one place because of illness.
4. Make Time To Answer Questions
When you’re approaching this subject, you need to realize that your child might have loads of questions. You need to carve out enough time for them to ask you anything that is of concern to them.
When you grasp any idea for the first time, it can be frustrating and confusing. Your child will be struggling with more than just object permanence. They’ll be wrestling with the concept of a permanent loss.
This could take hours or even days if they process it slowly or bring it up in the wrong terms. They could get angry or frustrated. Let them know that their emotional reactions are welcome and safe.
If you find yourself unable to figure out what to say when a pet dies, sometimes the best thing to say is nothing. Give them the time and the space they require to understand loss. Read them a children’s book about loss if necessary.
Grieving takes many forms. It’s especially complicated when children are young. They might not seem like they’re upset at first, but that may be because they’re missing the facts. They could ask for the pet days later without realizing their loss is forever. Make sure you carve out time on the day of the death as well as after to check in with them.
5. Make A Memorial
If you want to be sure that your child has a safe and positive transition, you should come up with a memorial for your pet. If there’s a tree on your property, you could dedicate it to your pet and bury them nearby. They’ll want to mark it with the best dog memorial stone and you should encourage them.
Get some photos and videos together of your pet. Make a simple compilation or a collage together. Let them choose the images they like the most and help them to piece everything together.
Turn the loss into an opportunity for a craft day. Print out any digital photos in duplicate so that nothing feels precious. They might want to bring one photo to school and put another on the fridge.
Knowing What To Say When A Pet Dies Is Hard
Figuring out what to say when a pet dies is a challenge for any parent, no matter how old your child is. They build emotional bonds with animals that are beautiful to watch but sad to see end. With a soft and nuanced approach, you can help your child deal with loss while allowing them room to grow from the experience.
If you’re finding your child is restless after your loss, follow our guide for dealing with cranky kids.