While talking to children about death and grief seems taboo to most people, at CPC we think its important for all ages to have an understanding of what’s going on. We have spent many years working with bereaved families and know that a child’s bond with their pet friends can be just as strong as an adult’s bond, so their grief should be counted just as much.
The death of a pet is, inevitably, something every pet owner will have to deal with. Adding the death of a much loved children’s pet into the mix opens up a whole host of issues.
Helping children through bereavement
We had a chat with our bereavement team, and they gave us some great insights into how they helps families through a difficult time. The main piece of advice, above all, was that parents are the best people to help children through bereavement; but don’t be afraid to seek help.
Tell the Truth
One thing that comes up time and time again is telling the truth. It is important to let children know that their pet has died and will not be coming back. Keep the language used appropriate to the child’s age, but always tell them the truth. Children are very perceptive and will pick up on lies straight away. There may, however, be more of a worrying reason to tell the truth.
Telling the truth is important for all children, regardless of religious background. When discussing grief in the context of your family’s faith, always make sure that children understand that their pet is not coming back. A phrase such as “gone to heaven” might provoke the response of “can I go too?”. We suggest referring to your religious texts or faith leaders for help with this.
Don’t use euphemisms
Hearing the words “gone to the farm” or “gone to sleep” is a lovely way to describe the passing of a pet, but we strongly advise against it for children. While children do need the language used to be kept at their level, its also very easy for them to get confused. Hearing “Fido has gone to sleep, and he won’t be waking up” can leave some children wondering if they will go to sleep and not wake up.
Keep language appropriate
You will want to keep the conversation at an appropriate level for the age of the child. The CPC team all agree that parents are best at this. You know what your child will understand, but words such as “euthanised” may be just a little too hard for them to understand.
Try to choose a neutral date
Choosing when to say goodbye to your pet is never easy. In some cases, such as an unexpected accident, you will not have a choice when to say goodbye. If, however, you are aware that the time is coming for your pet and it is the kindest thing you can do, then try to arrange their final journey on a date that isn’t important to your family. Try to avoid days like Christmas day or a birthday, as this memory will stick with your child.
If choosing a better date isn’t an option, try to celebrate on another day when the pain is slightly less raw.
Respect children’s feelings
As mentioned above, children will feel the loss just as much as adults will and will want to display their grief. They may react with outlandish behaviour or completely the opposite and close down. Respecting the child’s feelings and allowing them to express themselves will help them come to terms with the loss of their pet. It can come as a surprise to some parents how realistic their children are and how quickly children can accept that their pet has died.
Attending the cremation
When a pet dies, it can be hard not to have that last memory soiled by horrible visions of their death. Seeing the pet before the cremation can be really helpful to children. It will allow them to say goodbye in an understanding environment. The team at CPC can cremate letters and other memorials with the pet, or you can take them home and create a nice memorial area for your pet. Have a look at our keeping the memory alive blog for some further ideas.
The team work with CPC Pet Crematoria to make attending the cremation an option. We have some lovely staff members at our 4 sites across the UK. Your pet is laid out in a dignified manner for you and your children to say goodbye. You are not rushed and have a bereavement advisor with you 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.