The worst action is to say the animal went away. Children will eventually learn the truth and lying can breed resentment and destroy trust between parent and child. Later in life, when the child learns the truth, they’ll wonder what else the parent lied about.
- Don’t use euphemisms. Euphemisms can cause anxiety or confusion because children take what you say literally. For instance:
- If you say a pet is put to sleep, the child may suffer sleep anxiety;
- If you tell a child that the pet just ‘went away,’ the child will await the pet’s return, and upon learning the pet had been buried, may want to unearth the animal;
- If you say ‘God has taken your pet because he was special,’ the child may resent God, and fear who might be next.
- Don’t blame the veterinarian. Some parents, especially those who fear explaining euthanasia to their children, find it easier to put it all on the vet. This is not only unfair to the veterinarian but potentially harmful to the child. He or she may grow up distrusting veterinarians and, by extension, doctors and other medical professionals. In addition, parents shouldn’t put the decision on the veterinarian. Your veterinarian can help the parent explain why euthanasia may be the most humane option, and answer questions the child may have.
- Don’t replace the pet too quickly. Parents often want to ease their child’s hurt by rushing out and buying another pet. The last thing you want to do is convey the impression that the pet – a family member – is replaceable. Wait until the child expresses an interest in another pet.
Children are very resilient, and usually learn to accept that 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.