The death of a pet can be very sad. It’s made more difficult with young children because they have a hard time understanding death. Explaining can it can be tough. If you tell your five-year-old their cat has passed on they might be clueless as to what “passed on” means. “Lucky, passed on where, Mom? Did she go across the street?” Even if you use the word death, young children have a hard time grasping how long death is. If you explain to your child that death means a long period of time you still might get, “Does that mean Spot will come back in three weeks?” Three weeks is a long time to a five-year-old.
At age six I still couldn’t understand how long summer was. My older brother showed me a calendar and flipped up three pages saying that’s how long it was. That helped, some. At least I knew it was for a long time. You actually have to tell your child their beloved pet will not be coming back. You can’t pussy foot around death. Death is final. You do not want your child to think an animal is coming back if it’s not. Please do not tell your child that Pickles went to live on a big farm in Idaho if Pickles died. This is a lie and serves no purpose. And your lie can be exposed. However, if your family’s belief system is that there is an afterlife you can tell your child you believe Fluffy is in Heaven. This is a belief. It differs from “Pickles went to live in Idaho.” This statement is a lie because you’re purposely being deceptive. It’s a deliberate falsehood. You know Pickles did not go there.
Children grieve in different ways. One of your children might sob, another could pester you with questions, and your last child might get real quiet and refuse to talk. Each child has their own personality. And because of that each had a different relationship with the deceased pet. Moreover, one child could have been closer to the family pet than another. Did the animal sleep in bed with them? It won’t anymore. And that’s sad. Be kind. Don’t brush away your child’s feeling and tell them to buck up. If you offer to take them for ice cream to cheer them up, do NOT renege on it if they say no. They might be feeling so heartsick they can’t eat right now. Take your child in a week.
Some children like to have a small memorial service for their pet. I’ve been to many grave site pet services in backyards. Fish. Hamster. Rat. Turtle. Lizard. Depending on where you live, bigger pets, such as dogs, cats, etc., that have died have to be taken to your local animal services agency to be taken care of. You should check. You can have your pet cremated and have a small memorial service. The memorial can be just sharing good memories. “Remember how Rover would lay down low and sneak over to the counter and steal pizza?” Then it was a pain, now it could be a funny memory. Maybe one child will draw a picture of good times with Rover. A memorial service provides closure. Which is important. That’s why saying Pickles went to live in Idaho when he didn’t is wrong. There is no closure.
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