How to talk to children about pet loss
Children also view pets as members of the family and sometimes as their best friend. Breaking the news to your children that their pet has died, or that they will need to be euthanased can be a very difficult discussion. How you go about doing this depends on the child’s age and how much they already understand about death.
Although we want to shield our children from confronting situations such as dying, it’s important not to discuss your pet dying in ways that avoid discussing death directly. For instance, although it may feel kinder to phrase it as your pet “went to sleep”, this can invoke a fear of sleeping (in which they fear they may not wake up) which may be unhelpful in the long term. Try instead to focus on the lovely memories they have of your pet and encourage ways of memorialising your pet.
When euthanasia occurs, it can be hard to decide whether the child should be present during the occasion. In the same way that we want the child to take steps to remember the pet, it can be helpful for some children to be present at the euthanasia, and to say goodbye to their loved family member. The factors to consider here are whether the child wishes to be present, and their age and understanding of death. Children can be prepared for the process with explanations about what will happen, and the vet can be included in these discussions so that children are comfortable with them ahead of the process.
Children learn their respect and understanding of death through the experiences they go through. It is helpful to talk openly about your pet and the concept of death. Your children may have a lot of questions about why or how this occurs, and we can shape their understanding by answering these questions openly. Most importantly, they can be reassured that their pet will always have a place in their hearts, and they can be remembered in our fondest memories.
Ways Your Child Can Remember Their Pet
- Create their own photo album
- Write a story about their pet
- Write a letter to their pet
- Draw pictures of their pet
- Having a ceremony with a small memorial plaque (this can be helpful in having
- somewhere they can go to visit their pet)
- Making a memory box of items to remember your pet by
Sometimes books can be a helpful way of explaining loss to children. Below is a list of books you may find helpful.
The Bug Cemetery by Francis Hill
When You Have to Say Goodbye: Loving and Letting Go of Your Pet by Monica Mansfield and Lennie Peterson.
This educational series is part of a Client Support Program proudly delivered in partnership with Sunset Veterinary Care.
For more information on veterinary palliative care visit www.sunsetvets.com.au.
UQ Psychology Clinic
Dr Leander Mitchell DPsych (ClinNeuro&ClinPsy), PhD, MAPS
CRICOS PROVIDER NUMBER 00025B