Things to Keep away from a Kid Regarding to the Death of any Kind of Pet

Things to Keep away from a Kid Regarding to the Death of any Kind of Pet
Written by Joshua

Recently a friend of mine had to euthanize their family dog. It was a very painful decision for her and she asked my husband, who is a funeral director, for advice about what to say to her children. He has been in the funeral business for thirty years and is both knowledgeable and compassionate on the subject of grieving.

Over the years he has given many people very good advice on what not to say to children. I thought it would be helpful to write down his thoughts and share them.

What Not To Tell a Child about the Death of a Pet

Helping your children cope with the loss of a pet is a difficult and emotional experience for parents. We learn that life is full of goodbyes, some more painful than others. Bringing grief to closure is being able to accept a permanent goodbye.

Be honest. Never lie to a child about a pet’s death. Being honest to your child about death and showing them healthy coping skills will ultimately make the process of death less painful for them. Lies prevent the opportunity for closure. If your pet is sick, tell your child. You may find that having a discussion about the potential loss of a pet will address their fears before they become issues. Many children have misconceptions about death and discussing the subject can help alleviate this and prepare a child for the sad event. There are many good books that explain the life cycle in terms that even young children can understand. So do not tell a child a pet ran away or is living somewhere else. Honesty is the best policy.

Do not use euphemisms. They can easily cause a child to misinterpret what you are telling them. Consider the literal meaning of the words and you can understand why these terms might be confusing to children. It is best to use the words death and dying and explain that death is permanent. Put in simple language what has happened to the animal, Jinx had a disease called cancer and she was in a lot of pain. Her body no longer works now, but she is happy and no longer hurts.

It is important for the child to understand the pet has died and will not be coming back. Euphemisms such as “put to sleep”, “gone to the farm”, “went away”, “passed away”, “Jake’s away for a while”, “taken to heaven” can cause fear and anxiety in children. Young children take things literally, so telling them a pet “went away” could give them the expectation that the pet will come back or they may wonder what he or she did to make it leave. Using the term “put to sleep” may make death appear as a temporary state. They may expect a pet to “wake up”. This term can also cause fears of bedtime.

Never criticize a child for how they are feeling. Do not tell them “don’t be sad” or “be strong” People grieve in different ways. Showing your sadness to your own children and remembering happy times with their pet, can give them healthy coping mechanisms when dealing with death. Explain to them that although their pet has died, they will continue to live on in memories and that it is normal to feel sad about their pet’s death and it is normal to feel happy when they think of his life. Having a ceremony for the pet and making a scrapbook can be helpful ways to express sorrow. This will give children ways to remember the pet and the good times they shared. Encourage your child to show his/her feelings by talking, writing, or drawing about their pet. Research has shown when grief is expressed; the time needed for healing is often less. Similarly, if the need to express grief is restricted or withheld, the healing process can take much longer.

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Do not blame the veterinarian. Some parents, who have issues dealing with death, find it easier to blame the vet, rather than have an honest discussion about a painful subject. You do not want a child to develop a fear of vets or doctors. A veterinarian can be a helpful resource in helping in explaining why euthanasia may be a humane option, but should not be used as a substitute for a conversation between a child and parent.

Do not trivialize death. If a goldfish dies, for example, don’t make jokes about having a burial at sea. Parents might think twice about doing this in relation to the family dog, but children can have strong attachments to pets like fish, lizards, and gerbils. Many people act as if these types of animals are not “real pets”. It is always a bad idea to try to fool a child by swapping a pet with a similar-looking one should it die. A friend of mine did this with her child’s goldfish and Emily became hysterical when she saw the fish. Her fish had a little black spot and that one did not. My friend told me that she thought she was saving her child from pain, but instead, the little girl was afraid whoever stole her fish was coming back for her.

Do not replace a pet immediately. You do not want to give a child the impression that pets are disposable. Wait until your child’s grieving process is complete and let them be part of the decision. Remember you are not “replacing” but adding another and different family member.

Do not inundate them with too much information. I stated earlier, to be honest about explaining death to a child and to give them the correct information, but be careful not to over-explain or be too graphic. Give them essentials and then wait for them to ask questions. Very young children can only absorb so much information at a time. They may return to you over time and ask more questions or repeat the same questions over and over. Children can react to death in very different ways. One child might appear oblivious or unfeeling, while another is overwhelmed with grief. Some children internalize, while others externalize feelings. In either case, it is important to allow children opportunities to express their feelings about their pets in a healthy way. Whether a pet is cremated or buried, a ritual or ceremony can teach children that all living things are important and to be respected. Mourning is a process of different stages of grief. It takes time. Teaching your children about death gives parents the opportunity to be teachers about life.

Do not be afraid to laugh. Just as crying can be therapeutic, so can laughter. After our family dog Beau died we held a ceremony to celebrate his life and mourn our loss. We laughed and we cried as each family member told a story of our devoted friend. We scattered wildflower seeds around his grave. The children understood why he was an important member of our family and that we loved him and would miss him. When we remembered Beau we could think of these stories, instead of any pain he might have felt at the end. A ceremony is a beautiful way to remind children that life continues in some form and teach them a healthy way to bring the loss experience to closure.

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