Pet death and children; how to support your children through grief
A question we frequently get asked is: how do I support my children through our pet’s (imminent) passing?
We’re a great supporter of keeping children in the loop and being open to them about what is going to or has happened to their beloved furry friend. In general, we use the following line from Ohio State University as quoted by IAAHPC during their 2022 conference:
Children do not need different support. They just need more of it.
Here are some tips for talking to children and what to do with them during the euthanasia consultation:
Use clear language
Refrain from using lines like “he’s going to sleep” or “he went to the farm”.
Although some people are not comfortable with using words like death, euthanasia or even passing away, using the examples above will only confuse children and make them anxious about bedtime and visiting a working farm.
Acknowledge their feelings
Tell them it is okay to be sad/angry/frustrated/confused.
Losing a pet is often a child’s first encounter with death and the finality of it all. Instead of trying to make things better for them, let them sit with their feelings and go through them. Making them stop crying by buying them ice cream will only make them suppress their feelings.
Don’t hide your feelings from your children
Maybe just as important in allowing them to show their emotions, be open on your own. Once you normalise your feelings, they will feel more open to sharing their emotions and come to you to ask questions.
Give them a role in the grieving process
Not everybody feels comfortable having their children present during the passing of their pet. And we also need to ensure the pet is passing in a calm environment where the veterinarian is not distracted. That’s why we give children a task before the euthanasia consultation or during. We hand over their pet’s cocoon (a very cosy, fabric body bag) and ask them to decorate the cocoon, make a drawing for their furry friend, write a poem or story about their pet, or fill the cocoon with beautiful flowers. This not only gives them a task, but it also helps them in their own grieving process.
Give children the choice to see the deceased body
They might want to see their furry friend once they have passed away, but be sure to do this after they have been cleaned up and placed in a peaceful position.
Once a pet has passed away and been placed in a representable manner such as a foetal position, it’s perfectly fine to ask the children if they’d like to see their friend. This is a great visual way of showing them how the body works, e.g., relaxing the muscles, stopping breathing and beating of the heart. It will also give you the opportunity to explain what will happen next with the body.
They are less likely to question whether their pet has really died or have scary (zombie-like) images in their head after they see how peaceful their pet’s state is.
Like many other things in life, death and how to attain a good one for your furry friend is all about communication. We are always very happy to have a talk with your child and answer all their, sometimes morbid, questions. And who knows, maybe you learn something too!