The joy of owning a pet inevitably ends in the heartbreak of loss. As adults we understand this reality, but our kids do not. The grief and grieving process associated with the loss of a 4 legged family member can take a child by surprise and we often have parents looking for advice on how to help them best cope. There is no canned answer as each child, each family and each situation is different. We do, however, have some tips to help you support your child after the loss of a pet.
Speak Openly and Honestly
Chances are the death of a pet is the first encounter your child has with death. It’s important to always be open about your feelings and speak honestly about what has happened. Doing so will not only help your child to cope better, but will contribute to a stronger relationship between you two.
If you’ve had to euthanize your pet, be careful not to use the phrase “put to sleep” as this will cause confusion and could lead to sleep issues with your child. Instead, explain that it was a painless procedure performed by the veterinarian to help the animal die peacefully.
Show Your Emotion
Cry if you need to. There is no need to hide your emotion. Chances are your child is sad and by seeing you express this emotion, you are validating that this feeling is okay.
Balance your sadness with smiles and happy thoughts. Share stories, recount memories and thumb through photos to help remember all of the good times.
Memorialize Your Pet
No doubt the loss of a pet has left a void in your child’s (and likely yours as well) life. Memorialize your pet to help fill that voice. Here are some suggestions:
- Hold a memorial service and invite friends and family
- Write stories, poems and color pictures together with your child
- Scatter ashes in a special place
Depending on the age and maturity of your child, their understanding of what has happened will vary.
Under age 3: Children of this age really won’t really have a grasp of what is happening. They are going to react the way you do. Keep this in mind and set the example.
Age 3-5: At this age, children see death as temporary or reversible. Chances are they will suggest you take your pet to the vet for a shot or some new medication. It will likely need to be repeated often that their furry friend will not be returning. Remember to be patient, even after they have asked for the 100th time.
Age 6-8: Children in this age bracket understand death is final, but probably never expected to have to deal with it in their own life. Be open with your child and let them express their feelings as needed.
Ages 9+: Older children know that death is inevitable but may feel responsible. They may think that if they would have done more to help out or played with their pet more frequently their furry friend would still be alive. Reassure your child this is not the case.
Children are resilient and as time passes, the pain of losing a pet will dissipate. When the time is right, you may want to welcome a new animal into your family. When you do, help your child to remember the one that passed away and remind them the newest member is not a replacement.
If you need more advice, let us know and we would be happy to help you out.