Today a few thoughts on preschoolers and pets. Pets are a great way to teach children about responsibility and empathy, among other things. Unless you have a macaw parrot most pets do not live as long as people. The loss of your pet family member may well be your child’s first experience with death.
The most important thing you can do is listen to your child and be honest. As adults we often have our own preconceptions and may cause confusion or heartache for children by answering questions that weren’t asked!
On a positive note it helps to explain to a child that pets do not live as long as people. “How lucky we were to have kitty with us.” Of course, it’s okay to be sad and miss your animal family member. It is worth asking your child if they have any questions. Remember to answer just what was asked and it’s best to keep your child’s schedule as close to normal as possible. Children need consistency, especially during sad or stressful situations. Be sure to make anyone who watches your child aware of the loss and how you are handing it.
On several occasions, parents have come to me concerned that a pet they had for many years (long before they had a child) passed and their child didn’t seem upset. It’s important to remember your child may not have the same attachment to the pet that you had. Don’t expect your child to feel the same way or to show their emotions the same way you do. Just keep listening and remember many children live in the moment and don’t dwell on the past. Something we can all learn from.