How we talked to our kids about a dead kitten

Today was a very sad day in our house. Two days ago our cat gave birth to one kitten. We were very happy because we had been anticipating it and talking to the kids (3 and 6 years old) about it. Her labour started at night so in the morning we showed the one kitten to the kids and they were very excited. Last night, however, that kitten died and we found it dead in its box this morning. It died after becoming weaker yesterday and us adults were expecting it. It was different for our kids.

I want to take some time and reflect on how we talked to our kids about the dead kitten. In the process, we tried to stay as honest and non-religious as possible.

The first step

The first thing we did this morning was to remove the box with the dead kitten from our living area. We didn’t want the kids to come downstairs, look in the box, and find a dead kitten. Instead, we covered it up and left it outside so we could look at it together.

When the kids came downstairs to have breakfast, we said to them that the kitten had died. We didn’t sugar-coat it but told them that the kitten is not alive anymore. I’m not sure if they understood at that time what had happened.

After breakfast, it was the usual rush to get ready for the day. We didn’t have much time to talk about the kitten further. Before it was time to leave the house, however, we went to the box together.

The second step

We showed the kids how the kitten was lying in the box and showed them that although it was dead it just looked like it was sleeping. We didn’t pick the kitten up but covered it back up. And then we left the house.

My husband, who was home in the morning, buried the kitten in the garden and marked the place where it lays so we could go back to it.

The third step

When the kids came home, we picked some flowers together in the garden. The kids weren’t sure what it was for but we told them that we wanted to put the flowers on the kitten’s grave.

With the flowers in hand, we went to the tiny grave. We put the flowers down and explained that this is the place where the kitten now lies.

At that point, we were all crying and we hugged each other, standing by the tiny grave.

When we went inside our eldest wanted to make a cross for the grave. I suggested to him to draw something instead. He drew a picture of the kitten and we wrote the dates under the picture.

The final farewell

After drawing the picture together, we talked about what happens to the kitten now. Since we have lost some loved family members in the recent past, which the kids could relate to, we talked about the fact that the kitten is with our loved ones now.

We are not religious at our house, so we tried to explain how different religions talk about death and souls. We talked, with the kids, about the fact that some people believe in heaven. The kids immediately went on to describe how the kitten would have to get out of the grave, get cleaned and climbed into heaven.

I then tried to explain that some people believe that only the souls will stay around and could come back in another person or animal. My daughter got very excited by that and wanted to start looking around who the kitten could be.

At last, I told the kids that the kitten will only be with us from now on when we think of it, when we dream of it, when we draw pictures of it, and when we talk about it. This consoled the kids the most. They decided to dream of the kitten tonight so it would come back to them.

The bottom line

I find it difficult to talk to the kids about what had happened without lying to them and giving them false hope. My husband and I want our kids to understand that death is a part of life. Just because someone dies, doesn’t mean we have to forget about them. We want the kids to understand that the kitten won’t come back but will live on in our memories. And only time will tell if we succeeded in that today.

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