Q. One of our pet cats passed away recently. How should we explain the concept of death to our two sons (three and eighteen months) to help them deal with their grief but without causing further distress?
A. Helping a child deal with the death of a pet is an important task to undertake. While every child will react differently, for many young children, losing a pet may be their first exposure to death, so the situation must be handled with love and compassion.
Having a burial, memorial or similar ceremony, helps to reinforce the importance of the pet’s life and acknowledges the death. Children should be encouraged to participate in whatever way is appropriate – help mark the grave site, decorate the urn of ashes, or drawing pictures of happy times together with the pet – whatever activity fits with the final ceremony and allows the child to say goodbye in their own way.
Another important element is answering questions about death in the simplest terms to avoid confusion. Encourage your child to talk about how they feel and grieve with them openly. Finally, keep an eye on them and if you notice a drastic change in behaviour, it may be best to consult with a professional.