The bond with a child and his animal can be life long. The animal is often a friend to lean on and a shoulder to cry on. A child’s companion animal is often that child’s first meeting with death. How the adults and family members in that child’s life deal with the death of the animal can be life changing.
The role the parent, friend, teacher, doctor and veterinarian play at this point in a child’s life can be very effective if they’re understanding and accepting of the true bond the child – animal had. It is important to treat the child’s grief as real, respect it. Try and remember how it felt to lose your best friend when you were young. It is often thought that a child deals well with grief.
Grief is individual. Each child will cope differently however children grieve just as intensely as adults. It is also important not to lie to the child, don’t tell them that the dog ran away – they may continue to wait for the animal to return for years. And it will not give them closure. When children are told by their parents that the dog has gone to a new home or the cat has run away; the parent is not unintentionally being cruel. However, the child will still feel rejected. They may feel that puss didn’t like their home, so she found a new one. When Children learn the truth later on, even years later, they may feel as though their parent deceived them. It is important to explain how or why ‘puss’ died, talk to them gently, encourage discussion. You should let them know that it’s ok to talk about how sad it is to lose ‘puss’. Often a gentle talk is all that is needed to help the child open up and get through the sad times. Depending on the child’s age they will be able to understand some details and not others so keep it simple and consider their age before you explain what actually happened.