The child tends to be trivialized by the adult for a few reasons. Either he himself trivializes his own mourning in the face of all his losses. Either he knows that the child does not understand death as he understands it, so he does not bother saying to himself: he will not understand anyway.
It is true that the very young or the young child does not understand the concept of death, but they feel all the distress, tension, anxiety and routine that is changing around him. Adult crying, act differently, the tone of voice is changed.
This is how the youngest feel it. And they live it crying, developing physical symptoms. In this case it is up to the adult to work on his animal mourning and reassure the child, with his warmth, his tone of voice, that it will go.
The young child does not have the intellectual capacity to understand the concept of death. For him everything is alive and will come back. It’s like in cartoons or movies. We die, we come back. Like in video games. Even if the animal has been buried before his eyes, he expects him to be in the house when he returns, he looks for it everywhere. At this age, he asks a lot of questions about death, even if he does not quite understand the irrevocable principle.
It is between 8 and 10 years that the child understands the concept of death. Irreversible. It is not necessary as an adult to interpret that he understands and that there is nothing more to explain.
What to say to her bereaved children of their pet with whom, sometimes, have spent a few years with?
“ Max is dead, that means he will not come back. That you will not be able to take it in your arms, to flatter it, to brush it, to feel it, to make you lick. You will not be able to have any more fun with you. You will not be able to hear his heart beat any more.
What else to say to the child? Unless the animal has been hit by a car, or by accident, it will not be understood that one can die by illness. So, it is important to say, in simple language to the child’s understanding of his age, how the animal is dead.
Yes he will ask a lot of questions. He needs to understand with his rational how his animal is dead. It’s normal and correct. Sometimes the adult may find it insensitive, but no, it is a normal reaction for this age.
You feel helpless, see on the internet, there is plenty of information on animal disease.
Am I taking my child to euthanasia?
I would tend to say yes for children 8 years and older because they can grab more death and accompany the animal in its last moment, lets say goodbye and see the reality of this death. It will not remain an abstract event, but real. And the younger ones might have nightmares when they see the animal “falling asleep” and may not want to sleep at night for fear of not waking up again. In any case, it depends on your beliefs.
What can you do with your child?
1- drawings and pictures of his animal, souvenir album with stories, footprint.
2- Make him remember stories of his animal
3-Ask him what he liked the most, the least
4- Have him write a love letter, or help him do it. Put it in a balloon and let go in the wind.
5-Light a candle
6-Make a meal in memory of …
7 – Let him express his emotions: anger, joy, pain, relief etc.
What not to do?
1-Go buy another pet to replace the old one.
2- To deny the feelings, the pain, the sadness of the child.
3 – Banalize by saying to him: it does not matter, you will have another one. He is better now, he does not suffer anymore. (do not forget, he does not know what it is to die by illness)
What not to say?
“ Max went to heaven“ If there is a storm, he will think that max is angry with him.
“ Max has gone away“
“ Max has gone on a trip. ” He will wait for a long time, he will want to join him.
“ It’s your fault if he’s dead, it’s you who opened the door“
Although you have a lot of trouble, please take the time to weigh the words of what you said to your child, because he will remain marked all his life.
Remember, we live our mourning as we learned to do at our first mourning.
wishing you courage and good luck.