Children can be devastated by the death of a pet, even a little hamster or a rat. A structured sequence of events will help them let go and move on.
When a pet dies, be practical and upfront. Tell the child that it is natures way - animals are born, they live their lives and they die. Better not to give them hope that they are just asleep or they will expect them to wake up and be alive again. More pain when they realize this is not going to happen. Get them busy with making decisions about what happens next.
If practical, decide where the animal is to be buried. Talk about how the chosen place is “nice and shady” or “under their favourite tree” to make them feel the pet would like to lie in rest in that spot.
If not practical (ie. the animal is being buried elsewhere) then choose a place where a little memorial can be set up.
Let the child take a sheet of paper and draw a picture and /or write a few words about their pet. Slip the paper into a plastic sleeve and attach it to a cross (garden cane can be used to make a cross - use string to bind the two sticks together) If a cross is not appropriate for your religion, then just use the cane as a stake.
Hold a little ceremony and help the child put his picture up on the spot chosen. If you feel the child will be too upset, seeing the actual burial, then arrange for that to be done without him there and then have the ceremony later. If practical, a small plant can be planted on the site or place a flower in a simple container, like a jam jar.
Give the child a small photo album or scrapbook and let him put together (with your help if needed) some of the photos you have of the pet and let him draw and write about any of the memories you have of his pet … funny things he did, where he liked to sleep, tricks, his favourite food, naughty things he did and so on. (If it is say a rat and you don’t have photos, then look on the Internet and find a similar looking rat.)
While a new pet will never replace, exactly, the one just lost, it will go a long way in easing the pain and distracting the child from his loss. Don’t think, that it is not a good idea, as it too will die one day. That is life and children are better for growing up aware, that that is how it is.
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