Be open and honest. Treating this delicate topic poorly can scar children for life. If a pet is terminally ill and needs to be euthanized, the parents need to tell the child as soon as possible, and questions should be answered. Use the words “death” and “dying” to make your meaning clear. Some children will want to be present during euthanasia and most will be curious about the process. Some veterinarians are firmly against it; others say it depends on the child’s age and maturity.
- Make sure your child understands what ‘dying’ means. Explain that the animal’s body stopped working. Most important, the child should know that the pet has died and will not be coming back.
- Be available. Take time to let your child discuss his/her feelings by talking or writing about the fun times. You may want to hold your own service to memorialize the pet and to say goodbye formally. Some people plant trees in a special spot in the yard, others bury the pet in a cemetery so the family can visit.
- Show your own feelings. Show your child that the pet was special and that they are not grieving alone. You can also encourage your child to open up, which helps the healing process.
- Talk to the teacher. Tell your child’s teachers about the loss, so they will understand why your child is behaving differently.
Children are very resilient, and they usually learn to accept their pet is gone. If a child persists with nightmares or seems unable to cope, however, it may be necessary to talk with a counselor.