A pet is family to a child and for young children, it may be the first death that they would come across. Your child may be very attached to the pet as the pet may be the best friend that he has grown up with. However, owning a pet comes with both the joy and the sadness when the pet passes away due to illness, old age or accident. It is important to prepare your child for the pet’s death and help your child through the process of saying goodbye.
#1 Prepare Your Child
If your pet is old or have a health condition, it is time to start preparing your child. Depending on the age of the child, you may wish to start reading some children books or watch some movies on this theme together (but always go through these materials on your own first). If you think that your pet will need to be euthanized, you may want to explain that the pet will not be able to recover and its doctor has done everything possible. The kindest way then is to let the pet die without feeling pain. You would have to gauge if it is appropriate for your child to be at the veterinarian’s clinic, but it is generally not recommended for children below the age of 5. Do not blame the pet’s death on the veterinarian nor pass the responsibility of explaining to your child about the pet’s death to the veterinarian.
#2 Break the News
Using an excuse or silly explanation is not going to help your child deal with the loss of the pet. Firstly, you would want to break the news to your child in a quiet setting and treat the news with respect. Secondly, it is important not to lie but tell the truth. Decide how much your child is able to understand about the concept of death, or if you should replace with simpler terms that your child can understand. However, avoid terms like going to sleep as your child may take it literally and start to be worried that going to sleep is a bad thing. For a toddler, he may think that “death” is temporary and you may have to take more time to explain that it is permanent. There is no need to give a complicated explanation, but a simple one that the pet has died which means it would not be returning will suffice.
#3 Be Ready to Listen
Your child may share his feelings and have questions for you. When asked what has happened to the pet after its death, it is acceptable to acknowledge to your child that you do not know. Your child may share the fond memories with the pet, or share frustration that he hasn’t treated the pet better or that he still have lots of activities planned with the pet. Be there for your child and listen to his sharing. You can also share that you feel sad as your child may feel comforted that he is not alone in this grieving process. However, be careful not to sob or cry too uncontrollably as it can be scary for a child to witness that.
#4 Plan a Farewell
Cremation services are available in Singapore, and provide service such as picking up your pet and returning you the urn by the next day (or you can choose to have the urn placed in their pet columbarium). There is no designated pet burial ground in Singapore; notwithstanding, you can plan a memorial service where all family members get to write letters or place items in special box. You can also do a scrapbook with your child as a dedication to the pet.
#5 Go Slow with a New Pet
Do not be in a hurry to get a second pet to replace the first one. Each pet is unique and should not be viewed as replaceable. However, when the sadness and grief has faded, you can choose a time to ask if your child would like to have another animal friend. Don’t assume that your child would say yes, and he may decide that he is not ready or doesn’t want to own another pet.