Pets are part of the family. That’s why the loss of a beloved pet can be incredibly difficult to deal with, especially for children. While some kids experience loss during childhood, for others, losing a pet is their first experience with death. They may have an even harder time coping if the pet’s death was unexpected. Children may express their grief differently, and at different times, depending on their age and personality. No matter the circumstances, it’s important to support and guide your children during this difficult time. Here are a few important things to keep in mind when helping children grieve the loss of a pet.
1. Be open.
While it may seem easy to tell a white lie to help children grieve the loss of a pet, it’s better to be open from the beginning. Telling a young child that their pet “went to a farm” or left to visit a family member will be more confusing for them when the pet does not return.
Depending on the age of your child, it’s also important to avoid confusing language about death. Phrases such as “passed away” or “put to sleep” are especially hard for kids under age 5 to understand.
When telling your child the news, be gentle but direct. Let them know that their pet has died, and will not be coming back. Offer comfort and answer any questions they may have. Depending on the circumstances of the pet’s death, and the age of the child, it may be appropriate to share more details. Use your own judgement about how much your particular child can process – you know him or her best.
2. Preserve memories.
While it may be too painful during the first few days after the pet’s passing, reflecting on memories can help children grieve the loss of a pet. Frame a favorite photo, or create a new drawing to hang on the fridge. Many people plant a memorial garden (or even just one small plant) in memory of their pet. Explain to your child that this is a place to remember your pet each time they visit.
Let your child know that grieving the death of their pet doesn’t take away from the happy times they shared together. Try to focus on the joy that the pet brought into his or her life, and how much they meant to you as a family.
3. Grieve together.
Grieving is very difficult to handle alone. This is true for kids as well as adults. Let your kids know that it’s OK to talk openly about how they are feeling. Share your feelings to let them know that you are grieving, too.
Explore resources, such as books and movies, that you can share together as a family to help your children grieve the loss of a pet. For younger children, there are many great picture books that gently teach about the concept of death. Older kids are able to process more mature themes, and may appreciate watching a movie together and discussing it afterward.
4. Get help, if you need it.
Struggling with grief is normal, but if you notice your child is having a rough time even after several weeks, it may be time to consult a professional. Therapy can be a helpful tool for allowing your child to process his or her grief in a healthy and productive way.
Whether your family lost a new kitten or the dog who’s been by your side for years, it’s completely normal to experience grief. Helping children grieve the loss of a pet is an important part of letting them express their feelings and learn how to cope with grief. If you communicate openly and focus on the good memories, grieving the loss of a pet together may even bring you closer as a family. Remind your kids to be brave, and that you are right there beside them every step of the way, during good times and the bad.
For more grief support resources, visit the Bevis Funeral Home online Grief Support Guide or call today at (850) 385-2193.