The loss of the family pet is such an emotional experience. And for children, it's often more of a basic emotional response because kids often grow up with the family dog essentially filling the role of a brother or sister. Telling your children about the death your dog can be difficult. Here is some advice when doing so.
- let the kids know when things are going on with their pet’s health
- make age comparisons between animals and humans
- consider having the children present if humane euthanasia is your option
- have a celebration of your pet’s life
- understand that your child will go through the grief cycle
- keep it a secret
- tell them to tough it out
- avoid conversations of what’s next
- forget it takes time to grieve
- be afraid to ask for outside help
If the kids know their favorite dog’s health is failing, they can begin to prepare for what comes next. Having no idea their pet is sick or injured leads to greater emotional shock when the time arrives then when knowing there’s a chance their best buddy may die soon.
Every year of age for a dog is like seven years for humans. If your dog is 12 years old then it's like having a 90-year-old human playmate. This helps children understand their 18 year-old canine best friend may have increasing health issues.
The kids can hold and love their favorite family pet until the very end. Because it can be quite emotional, at-home euthanasia works well for some families. It also allows time – so the family doesn’t feel rushed to leave the vet’s clinic.
An event similar to human wake – where family and friends gather to share a meal, stories, and look at pictures – can give great meaning to the pet’s life and a kid’s memory. We all have a different grieving process, but being able to talk about the good times will anchor those memories in a child's mind.
The typical grief cycle includes the emotions of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. By acknowledging these emotions and your child’s journey through the emotions, you will help him/her move to the next step of grieving.
Kids aren’t dumb. They will feel deceived on top of the confusion about their pet dying if you don’t tell them or lie to them. Instead, build a bridge of trust and tell them what’s going on from the beginning.
Trying to be tough only suppresses feelings which can lead to issues later. Instead, give your child a hug, and explain you feel the same emotions your child is experiencing.
The death of a pet will have a child wondering whether or not there's an afterlife and whether their dog will go to heaven. For many kids, it's often a first glimpse into their own mortality. It’s actually a great opportunity to talk about these important issues as they now have meaning for your children.
We all process information differently. For some kids, the answer is obvious and they know where their pet has gone. For other kids, it creates feelings of doubt. Each person, young or old, deals with grief in their own way. The important thing is not to get stuck at one stage of grieving.
Help can come from anyone – other family members, children, a member of the religious community, or a support group for those grieving the loss of their pet. Because we all grieve differently, any one of these may be helpful.
It’s never easy to say goodbye to your family dog. Helping children understand that their buddy is gone will help them to say goodbye as well. Time to grieve, asking for help and celebrating the life of the cherished family pet will help kids come to a place of acceptance. Love and understanding are key.