Be honest with kids about pet’s death
Question: After our 16-year-old cat, Sheba, was ill for a long time, we realized it was time to put our friend to sleep. How do we explain this to our young children?
Answer: It's really tempting to offer children oversimplified statements like, "Sheba's in a better place and gone to sleep forever." The truth, however, is that children want details, and if you don't provide them, their imagination will. Kids benefit from sincere, straightforward and compassionate honesty.
When it comes to the passing of their best friend, this presents an opportunity to teach them about death as a natural part of life's cycle.
Remind them about how much you loved Sheba and what she meant to your life. Tell them that helping Sheba end her suffering was an important gift you needed to give her, and how hard it was for you to put Sheba's welfare above your own feelings to keep her here. Explain to them that euthanasia is a painless shot that provides a peaceful passing.
Be open with them about your grief and tell them how it makes you feel. Creating an environment where you can share your emotional vulnerability will make them feel that it's safe for them to express themselves, too.
It's important that they know that there's nothing easy about how and when to say goodbye. But the greatest comfort is knowing Sheba lived her best life and that your children were the best friends a cat could have.
Q: How can we guide our children through their grief?
A: You can start by trying not to control or protect them through their process. Allow them some latitude to experience their own cycle of grief, which will probably include denial, anger, guilt and sometimes depression.
It's most important for them not to bottle their feelings. You might want to encourage your children to plan their own version of a celebration-of-life service, to donate a portion of their allowance to an animal charity, volunteer at a shelter or find some other productive way to express their grief.
The Hawaiian Humane Society welcomes questions by e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org
. Indicate "Pet Ohana" in the subject line. Or, write "Pet Ohana," Hawaiian Humane Society, 2700 Waialae Ave., Honolulu 96826.