Prepare them ahead of time. Ideally, you should discuss the death before it happens. Explain to your child the average time frame his pet should be around. Also, let them know what death is and why it has to happen. In our case, we adopted a hamster when he was already an adult. Hamsters live for an average of 2-3 years. So I prepared the children in advance for this day. We knew Buddy would not be with us very long. But we rescued him anyway so that he would be happy while he was on the Earth.
Break the news gently. Don't just walk up to your child and say their pet has died. If your child is not present when their furry friend passes away, sit her down and have a talk. In Buddy's case, we were all present when he passed away, so we talked about what he meant to us and how happy we made him. Because of Buddy, my kids and I will be rescuing hamsters as often as possible whenever we have room for them. Depending on your faiths and practices, you can go into more detail about what happens to the pet after death. But do it in a gentle way that your child understands.
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Craft the pet's ceremonial supplies together. This helps your child settle in her mind that the pet is indeed gone. It also helps them understand that death is a natural part of life and the pet is still happy. My children crafted and decorated a pet coffin for Buddy and drew pictures to place with him. While making the items, the kids and I discussed the fact that we gave Buddy a happy life while he was here and now he can play forever. Be sure your child knows and understands that he did all he could for the pet and now the pet will remain in their hearts.
Do something in the pet's honor. As mentioned above, we placed Buddy in a garden area of the yard. In the spring, a garden will be planted there. Also, Buddy came to us in a special way. He was abused and neglected in his previous home and was an owner surrender. He was also an adult and blind in one eye. We took Buddy in, as his chances of another doing so were slim with his special needs. It is because of Buddy that we have rescued other hamsters and plan to keep up that effort to help other animals and keep Buddy's legacy alive. Doing a special deed in honor of your child's pet can help alleviate the grief, as it shows how special that pet is to the world.
*I originally published this via Yahoo Contributor Network