Family pets – especially dogs and cats – can often feel like just another member of the family. They bring love and joy, frustration and worry, and sometimes a lot of mess – just like a kid or your partner! Unfortunately, pets generally have a shorter lifespan that other members of the family and it is quite likely that the death of a family pet will be the first experience your kids have with this type of loss.
You should prepare yourself for the bigger life questions that can come from your kids with this type of event – Where do you go when you die? Is it cold and dark? Will you die and leave me here?
When a pet dies, you should tell your kids the truth. Gone are the days when “Spot went to live on a nice farm in the country” is considered a good way to break the news. And answer questions about death honestly. Your answers will likely reflect your religious beliefs (or lack thereof) but you should also be honest in explaining that you do not have all the answers.
Kids will often want reassurances that you will not be leaving them anytime soon which you can give as it is statistically true! Hold a ceremony to recognise the pet’s passing and let your kids express their feelings. Encourage your kids to talk about what they are feeling so they understand that it is natural to feel sadness. But also help your kids remember the wonderful times you all had together.
Now that you have an idea on what you think are the best answers, you should share them with Nanny so your kids are getting consistent answers. Nanny should always give your kids the same messages that you are giving them. You should set this expectation with Nanny and follow through with it. Including Nanny in the memorial and family discussions is a great way to ensure she understands the messages you are giving. And let her know that if she gets questions none of you anticipated, she should direct your kids to you for answers.
A death of a pet is hard but can also be a learning and bonding experience with you kids.