For a child, the loss of a pet may be their first experience with death. With a bit of care, you can make this sad time easier.
Step 1: Explain what happened Tell the child about the death of the pet in clear, direct, and age-appropriate language. Don't avoid the words "death" or "dying." Euphemisms may make things more difficult for your child to understand.
TIP: Be prepared to answer questions about what happens to a pet after it dies. Your reply will depend on your beliefs and your child’s age -- have some optimistic answers ready.
Step 2: Show the pet If your child is not afraid, show the dead pet. Some young children can accept the loss of a pet more readily if they can see the animal.
Step 3: Be available Tell your child you will always be available to talk about the pet -- and follow through on your promise.
TIP: Be ready for a wide variety of emotions from your child. Some kids may cry, while some may not be ready to "process" the event for a while.
Step 4: Commemorate the loss Many children feel better about the loss of a pet if they can participate in some kind of farewell ceremony for the animal. If a backyard burial is appropriate, help your child arrange it. If a 'memorial' service would work better, then help with that.
TIP: A children’s librarian can help you find books about pet deaths. Reading these can be very helpful for your child.
Step 5: Talk Talk about the loss. It can be hard to discuss, but your child will remember your compassion and understanding long after the memory of the pet has faded.
FACT: The Hartsdale Pet Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York was the nation’s first pet cemetery.