Breaking the news to a child that his or her pet has died is never easy. How you go about this will depend on your child's age and maturity. Generally, your child's questions will best help guide just how much information you should divulge. It is not recommended that you use the term "put to sleep" or lie by saying the cat or dog simply ran away or left home to be somewhere else. You don't have to have all of the answers – there's a lot we don't know about death. Being honest with your child is what matters most.
Helping Your Child Heal
Children are at a different developmental stage than adults and thus will mourn differently. Although they may seem happy and be playing one minute, they can be sad the next. Their grief comes in spurts and it's important to allow them to work through grieving in their own ways. Being honest about your own feelings and sadness (no need to hide your tears) is completely healthy and sets the example that feeling your emotions is not a bad thing. Your child will come to model the behavior you display.
"Healthy children will not fear life if their elders have integrity enough not to fear death."
-Dr. Erik Erikson
Your child will begin healing through remembering his or her pet. You can assist with this by:
• Planning a memorial service together to pay tribute to the pet
• Planting a flower or tree in remembrance
• Creating a personalized marker or stone
• Creating a photo album or scrapbook together
An excellent online resource for young children is the "I Miss My Pet: A Workbook for Children About Pet Loss."