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View Full Version : How to break bad news to a child?



HumnHilghtFreel
01-26-2009, 01:35 PM
My girlfriend and I woke up this morning to find out that her cat had died, very suddenly. She has a 4 year old daughter, who LOVES the cat to death. We sent her off to school this morning and are dreading when she gets back and we have to tell her the cat is gone.

Does anybody have any kind of tips or suggestions about how to go about delivering bad news to a young one? We're both young ourselves so dealing with this right now is all new.

WMR
01-26-2009, 01:38 PM
At that age I wouldn't tell her the cat died. Would she even understand death?

I think my parents told me that my cat had gone to live with his brothers at that age when my dad accidentally ran over him one morning.

WMR
01-26-2009, 01:41 PM
oh yeah: and get her another cat immediately. 4 year olds will bounce back quick.

Ltlabner
01-26-2009, 01:43 PM
I haven't had to deal with it too much, just a couple of times.

Honesty. You have to temper it for her age, but don't try to fake her out.

"Honey...Mr. Fluffles got very sick and died (or went to kitty heaven)" After she stops crying tell her that while it hurts her very badly, this is better for Mr. Fluffles so he isn't in pain.

Spend lots of time holding her as she cries (assuming she does). Then share some happy memories for Mr Fluffles and, if you feel it appropriate, have the dreaded "cat funeral". While it seems hokey to parents its an important part of grieving IMO.

Part of owning and caring for pets is understanding that we almost always out live them. Also you have to acknowledge that we, as humans, have to do what's right for the pet, not what feels good for us. Might as well introduce your GF's daughter to it now. Like I said, you have to temper things because she's 4 but mostly I'd be sensitive and gentle but straight up about what happened.

After a little while (days or weeks, whatever you feel is best) ask her if she wants to go pick out another kitty. My guess is that she will.

SunDeck
01-26-2009, 02:06 PM
My kids have handled the deaths of our faithful old lab and our old cat very well. They were in the 4-6 age range; we just told them that each pet had gotten sick and died. Neither of them really understood that, so we explained that they just wouldn't be coming back. That part, they get. Yes, they got sad about it, but there is no way around that unless you went through some elaborate ruse about the cat going missing and not coming back.

George Anderson
01-26-2009, 02:20 PM
We had the same thing with my five year old daughter when our dog died. We told her that our dog went to a very special place called heaven and we would see the dog one day soon. We tried to make it a not so sad thing but more of a happy thing that her dog that she loved so much was now in a very special place and very happy.

15fan
01-26-2009, 02:21 PM
Tell her the cat died. Let her ask a couple of questions (What does that mean? Why isn't she coming back? etc) and do your best to give her a couple of answers that she can understand.

Then see if she wants some ice cream.

Few things soothe wounds and dry tears as well as a scoop of ice cream.

camisadelgolf
01-26-2009, 03:37 PM
I don't have much to add except that I would emphasize that she didn't do anything wrong and that it's not her fault and just a natural thing. At the ages of four and five, children tend to blame a lot of things, good or bad, on themselves.

Roy Tucker
01-26-2009, 03:54 PM
We've always just told them the pet died in terms that were appropriate for their age. I never just blew it off. I always gave them ample time for feeling sad and room for questions and talked for as long as they wanted to.

About the only part I steered clear of when they were little was euthanasia. That gets complicated pretty quick.

For the little critters (< cat), we have a little pet graveyard in one of of our flower beds. I'd get a little flat rock and let whoever's pet it was paint his name and picture on the rock. We use it as a little marker. I let the kids help me bury it and let them say whatever they want once we've buried it. Often times it was pretty touching. We've got quite the collection of rocks for gerbils, hamsters, rabbits, fish, frogs, etc.

Razor Shines
01-26-2009, 04:34 PM
I agree with everyone who says to tell her the truth in the most loving and gentle way possible.

OldRightHander
01-26-2009, 11:50 PM
"Speak the truth in love" seems to be some pretty good advice.

Bip Roberts
01-27-2009, 05:36 PM
I still cry when I think about my dog :(

HumnHilghtFreel
01-27-2009, 10:40 PM
Thanks all for the replies.

She seems to be taking it all in pretty well. Still sad, but all things considered, she's being a trooper.

Johnny Footstool
01-28-2009, 10:08 AM
oh yeah: and get her another cat immediately. 4 year olds will bounce back quick.

This is good advice for any age.

When my cat died a few years ago, my wife, my other cat, and I spent a few miserable weeks moping around. Then we decided to try getting a new kitten. It was like someone flipped on a light switch the day I brought him home. Our other cat was visibly happier, and it helped my wife and I get past our grief.

Casey
01-28-2009, 04:29 PM
A lot of time kids will surprise you about how well they understand or handle things....sometimes much better than adults do. Honesty is always best, tempered for age as someone else had already mentioned.
Glad to her she took it so well. Losing a pet is a painful thing for the entire family to go through.

bucksfan
01-29-2009, 05:28 PM
When our beloved golden retriever died unexpectedly when our daughter was 3, we all had a very hard time with it. One thing that seemed to help was the book "Dog Heaven" by Cynthia Rylant. I have attached a link to the same type of book for cats (aptly named "Cat Heaven"). We ended up getting a rescue golden about 2 weeks later, and have had him ever since (almost 4 years now).

http://www.amazon.com/Cat-Heaven-Cynthia-Rylant/dp/0590100548

KittyDuran
01-30-2009, 09:51 PM
When our beloved golden retriever died unexpectedly when our daughter was 3, we all had a very hard time with it. One thing that seemed to help was the book "Dog Heaven" by Cynthia Rylant. I have attached a link to the same type of book for cats (aptly named "Cat Heaven"). We ended up getting a rescue golden about 2 weeks later, and have had him ever since (almost 4 years now).

http://www.amazon.com/Cat-Heaven-Cynthia-Rylant/dp/0590100548I'm definately going to purchase that book! I was crying just reading the reviews! Thanks! :thumbup: