Pet Loss: Helping Children Grieve
As pet owners, the death of a pet can be heartbreaking. But often, heartbreak is felt doubly so by the youngest family members: our children.
For many children, the loss of a pet is their first experience with death. This may mean that they need some gentle guidance on what has happened, and what that means; while for others, it may mean a life lesson in processing grief and moving on in a healthy way.
Whatever your family dynamic or beliefs might be, we hope that you can turn your pet’s loss into an opportunity to come together as a family and celebrate your pet’s life and the time you shared, rather than wallow in sorrow.
Here are a few ideas for making this time easier on you all…
Your child’s age will have a tremendous impact on how he or she perceives and understands death.
Typically, children under the age of five do not understand the concept as concretely as older children will, and it’s likely you will have to explain what has happened and what it means. Don’t be surprised, hurt, or angry if they don’t get it, or don’t seem to care as deeply as you think they should. Your child may need some time to process what you’ve said, and it’s likely your child will have a delayed reaction to what has happened.
Elementary school-aged children will likely understand the greater implications of death and deal with the loss more intensely than you might expect. Be patient with their emotions and accepting of their questions, even if they are a bit morbid. Children are curious, and don’t always understand what’s proper. Answer their questions honestly, and help them process in a way that is healthy for them.
Many children may not know how to grieve or express their feelings of loss. Because of this, it can be a good idea to provide them with a cathartic experience, such as a sad movie, to facilitate the release of emotion. All Dogs Go to Heaven is often a popular choice.
Older children and teens are likely to cope with pet loss in much the same way as you. By this age they are familiar with death and understand what has happened. However, for whatever reasons they may have, children at this age may try to suppress their grief in an effort to seem ‘mature’. Encourage your child to talk about his or her feelings, and to explore their grief.
Regardless of your child’s age, don’t make them feel ashamed of their feelings, grief, or expression. If they need to cry, let them without fear of consequences.
Celebrating Your Pet’s Life
For many of us, before we can fully move on in a healthy and productive way, paying some tribute to our four-legged friend is important. Here are some great family-friendly ways to celebrate your pet’s life:
Create a pet-friendly remembrance garden full of pet-safe flowers, catnip, and grasses, and keep a bowl of fresh water in this spot as an oasis for animals in need
Create an album of photos of your pet’s life and the time you spent together, look at it when you’re feeling blue (and even when you’re not)
As a family, write a tribute or obituary to your pet and either tuck it away with your remembrances, or publish it to your Facebook page
Volunteer with your children at your local animal shelter.
Have a dinner party with your friends and celebrate your pet’s life with love and laughter
Take a hike to your pet’s favorite spot and just sit awhile
And then, when you’re ready, adopt a new best friend into your heart and let your new pet nuzzle the last of your pain away.
We are sorry for your loss.