The next day, my son’s poor Beta fish was dead. He had turned a pale gray overnight and was floating belly-up in the tank. My son was heart-broken.
With tears streaming down his face, Vman told me his fish was dead. Falcon (yes, he did name the fish after another animal) had been his constant companion, greeting Vman every morning and lulling him to sleep every night. Falcon’s tank light was the perfect night light, making Vman feel secure in his room in the dark of night. And now Falcon was gone.
What was I supposed to say? And how do you talk to a seven-year-old boy who rarely talks about anything emotional?
Here are my recommendations on how to talk to a child about the death of a fish:
1. Allow your child to feel sad. As parents, we often want to shield our kids from feeling sad, but feeling grief is so important for children to process their own emotions. Allow your kid to cry, vent and embrace how they are feeling. Giving your children permission to process their emotions will develop the building blocks for managing more complex situations as they get older.
2. Give your child space if they need it. I’m a talker, so my first instinct is to discuss whatever is going on. However, I recognize my boys need their own space. After Vman’s initial cry over his fish, he asked if he could stop talking it. I believe he was overwhelmed by the situation and his sadness. I allowed him to go hang out in his room on his own, and once he had been able to think about his fish, he was able to come downstairs and talk about what he wanted to do next.
3. Give your child a say on how to honor his pet. My husband and I recommended to Vman the family go into the bathroom, say goodbye to Falcon and flush him down the toilet. We also gave him some alternatives on how he could honor his fish. Ultimately the decision was his. The whole process took about one minute but it let Vman say goodbye properly. He was still sad the next morning, but he felt like a chapter had been properly closed.
We have a new fish in the family. Again, it is named Falcon. But he’s a different color so he feels like a new friend rather than a replacement.
Has your child ever lost a pet? How did you handle it?