When Your Beloved Pet Dies, How Do You Tell Your Kids?
For many of us, our pets are part of our family. Loss of a treasured family member, the family pet, is profoundly heart-breaking. And explaining the death to your kids can be quite difficult as well. Death is a complex subject to process intellectually . . . add a deep layer of grief on top of that, and you have a tricky situation. How can you tell your kids that your beloved Fido or Felix has passed away?
- 1. Inform your kids as soon after the death as is practical. You don’t want your kids to hear about the death from a neighbor or other third party.
- 2. Select a private, quiet, familiar setting in which to speak with your kids about the death. Your home is a good place to hold this discussion. You won’t want the environment to be distracting; so, minimize the number of people and activities in your home as you embark on this discussion.
- 3. When speaking with your kids, be as calm as possible. It’s ok to be tearful: you want your kids to understand that it’s acceptable to express grief through open expressions of sadness. However, panic and trauma should not be displayed in front of your kids. If your kids see you panic or experience trauma, they will likely experience panic and trauma as well.
- 4. Provide your kids with only basic information initially. For example, you may say, “Fluffy got off his leash this morning, ran out into the street, and was struck by a car. He died instantly.” Then, ask them if they have any questions. Encourage them to speak to you about what they are thinking and feeling and share whatever questions they may have. Provide them with the additional information that they seek. This question-and-answer period may take weeks or months as your kids sort through the logic and emotions of the death. By allowing the “Q&A” approach, your kids will not be given more information than they want. Be aware, however, that your kids may seek information because they think they need to know, but they may still struggle with the information once it’s received.
- 5. If your kids ask you a question to which you do not know the answer, it’s ok to say that you don’t know. Spiritual and medical questions, in particular, can be difficult to answer. If practical, you can promise to research the question and get an answer for them within a period of time that you specify. (“That’s a good question. I don’t know the answer, but we can check with Pastor Smith/Doctor Johnson this weekend. Ok?”) Some answers may be impossible to ascertain, however. For example, if your kids ask you why bad things happen to good people (or pets), the answer may not be clear cut even with reasonable research into the matter. You can tell your kids that no one knows the answer with certainty, but your perspective is _______.
- 6. Ensure that you are especially attentive to your kids during this difficult time. Provide them with extra time to talk things over, to cuddle, and even to sit in silence together if that’s what they need. Expect that your kids may act out their grief by throwing tantrums, having trouble concentrating in school, having trouble understanding and remembering things, wetting their beds when they have already mastered waking up dry, not being able to get to sleep or stay asleep, experiencing lethargy and/or loss of appetite, and other signs of distress.
- 7. Hold a family funeral to pay your respects for your lost loved one. Allow your kids the opportunity to help plan and participate in the funeral.
By following these seven steps, you can help your kids understand and cope when your family experiences the loss of a beloved family pet.