For most people, a pet is more than just an animal they are in charge of, but rather a friend, companion, and family member. They bring us joy, comfort and friendship when others can’t. They may be the first ones to see you in the morning or greet you at the door when you come home. Their presence offers security and happiness in way you never understand until they are gone. Sadly, along with the joy and happiness a pet will bring you, the downside is heartbreak of losing one (regardless of old age, illness or accident).
This past weekend, we lost one of Guinea Pigs, Licorice. Licorice was a meek girl, who formed an attachment with my older son. She loved cuddling with him and he in turn received great comfort for her presence. While we were on holidays, our pig sitter found her dead in the cage. Guinea Pigs are unique creatures because they are so low on the food chain, they rarely show symptoms until its too late, thus we were shocked by her demise. The call came half way through our vacation and as parents, we struggled with how to tell the kids.
Teaching Kids about Death
I wish I could say that this was my children’s first experience with death, alas it seems to be a topic they are familiar with. In the past, we have lost grandparents, great grandparents and dog. Each situation is different and unique and dealing with it is never easy.
Sharing the News – This is one of the hardest parts. When, where and how your child is feeling are all very important factors to consider. This weekend, we were away and having some much need family togetherness time. There was nothing we could do about the death and felt it would serve our children better if we wait until we arrived home as not to spoil their fun. When telling a child you need to be clear, brief and let your children guide the conversation. Avoid from going into too much detail unless your child requests it.
Tell the Truth – Never make up stories like “he ran away” or “he’s living on a farm”. Death is an aspect of life. Your children will come across it whether directly (a relative) or indirectly (a friend’s mom). They will need to deal with it at some point and its better to tell the truth then have them discover a lie later on. Use your faith to guide your explanation of what happens after death. It is fine to tell them you don’t know.
Deal with Emotions – With death comes grief. Your children may range from anger to sadness to disbelief and each child will react differently. Share your feelings with your child and allow them to express theirs to you. Its OK to cry . Expressing your feelings openly sets an example for kids and allows them to learn appropriate coping techniques.
Saying Goodbye – After the emotional shock of the death as passed, its important to help your child move on in a positive way. Finding a special away to remember their pet can be done through things like sharing stories, creating a good bye ceremony/burial or even framing a favourite picture. This allows your child to know that even though their pet is gone, they are not forgotten.
There is truly no right way to deal with death. Each child is different and reacts differently. Let you heart guide you when dealing with a death. Listen, be honest and remember. In time, it will get easier.