Post originally published May 2017, updated May 2018
* A special guest post by CPC Cares – ‘Provider of Pet Cremation Services for bereaved pet owners with sensitivity and respect’.
Talking about death and bereavement is, to most people, a taboo subject especially when it comes to talking with children. At CPC we feel it is important for all ages to understand that grieving is a natural part of life and an important emotion that shouldn’t be ignored.
We have spent many years working with bereaved families and know that a child’s bond with their pet can be just as strong as an adult’s, so their grief should not be ignored.
The death of a pet is, for the most part something that every pet owner will have to deal with. Adding the death of a much-loved children’s pet opens up a whole host of issues.
Helping Children through Bereavement
Tell the truth –
It is extremely important to let children know that their pet has died and will not be coming back. Use language appropriate to the child’s age and tell the truth. Children are very perceptive and will pick up if you aren’t being truthful.
Don’t use euphemisms –
Don’t use sayings like ‘gone away’ or ‘to a farm’ as these invite more questions back from the child as to when will they be coming back and is it somewhere they can go visit. Don’t say they ‘have gone to sleep’ as this can often cause children to be afraid of going to sleep in case they (or you) won’t wake up.
Listen & Comfort –
Every child reacts differently to learning that their beloved pet and friend has died. They might cry or ask more questions or not react at all. Just stay with them and answer as many questions as you can and offer reassurance and hugs.
Respect children’s feelings –
As already said, children will feel the loss just as much as adults. Respect their feelings and allow them to express themselves. This will help them come to terms with the loss.
Put emotions into word –
Encourage your child to talk to you about their thoughts and feelings and empathize that you feel the same. Get them use to the thought that their feelings are normal and as time passes things will get better.
Give them a role –
It’s good to get them involved by asking them what they want to do that’s special for the pet. You might want to suggest a memorial in the garden or a keepsake to remind them of their pet; for example, a popular keepsake is a picture frame that discreetly contains the pet’s ashes.
Talk about the arrangements / attend the cremation –
Allowing your child to attend the cremation gives them the chance to say a final goodbye. Sometimes the last memory up until then is soiled by visions of death. Here at CPC we can cremate letters and other memorials with your pet or you can take them home and create a lovely memorial area.
We also make it an option for you to attend the cremation. We have 4 sites across the UK with wonderful staff. You are not rushed and have a bereavement advisor on hand every step of the way. This can be a good opportunity to allow the children to leave toys, cards, poetry or letters with their friend after they’ve said goodbye.
After the Cremation or burial be sure to always talk about the pet with love and fondness and once you see the pain starting to go away and your child mentions having another pet may signal that the time is right for you and your family to consider getting another pet.
Children are often more resilient and accepting than we give them credit for. By following the advice in this blog the loss of a beloved pet can be a valuable life lesson. And while bereavement is a difficult experience, parents shouldn’t put off pet ownership as the benefits of sharing our lives with pets is one of the most rewarding experiences that I know of.
If you like this post you can find more helpful bereavement support and resources at CPC Cares!
Have you ever had to explain pet loss to a child? Comment and share your experience below.