Dealing with the loss of a beloved family pet can be difficult for a child. We recently went through this in our house when our dog of 15 years crossed the rainbow bridge. While it was tough for my husband and I, we were prepared and understood what was happening. Our children, however, did not have the same understanding. Here are our tips for explaining the loss of a family pet to children.
Never use the words “Put to Sleep”
This can be confusing to children of all ages. Saying put to sleep sounds like it is a temporary situation and that the pet will wake up. It can also cause sleep anxiety in children who can look at sleep as a scary situation. If their pet went to sleep and did not come home, let could develop the fear of the same happening to them, siblings, or parents. In our home, we used the term passed away, which they already understood as meaning someone died, and refer to our pet a crossing the rainbow bridge.
Choose direct words that are honest but kind
We let our children know that our pet was sick before it happened and we prepared them for what was to come. We explained that when he was in too much pain that we would have to make the discussion to let him pass away peacefully. We explained the concept of death as he would not be coming home but he would remain in our hearts forever. It is important for children to understand the finality of death, as difficult as it is to talk about, because using euphemisms can cause confusion and anxiety.
Let children ask questions
Your children are processing something they might have never experienced before and they could have questions as they try to understand what is happening. Answer them with kindness and honesty. Be direct in your answers. This will give them a healthy understanding of the circle of life.
Don’t hide your own grief
Don’t hide your own feelings from your children. Show them that it is okay to be sad or even mad at the loss of a pet. Let them know that their are a range of emotions are none of them are wrong.