If you have pets and kids eventually you will need to help your kids cope with pet loss. My family would never be complete without fur babies (pets). Our 4 dogs, cat, and hamster are cherished members of our family. But anyone with furry family members knows that along with the joy our pets bring into our life also comes the heartache we feel when they leave.
Although we can’t prevent our children’s grief over the loss of a pet, we can help them cope and process their grief in a healthy manner. The following information guided me through my family’s grief over the loss of our pet, Cadie, and hopefully it can serve as a source of guidance for yours as well should you need it.
A lot of times, the loss of a pet is a child’s first encounter with death. From APLB “The death of a child’s beloved pet matters a great deal in his or her young life. How this is handled now will remain with the child for the rest of his or her life.”
According to the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement, “kids between the ages of 7 and 9 tend to have the most questions about death”. I found this to be true with my family, but every family is different. You know your kids, try to gauge how much information they need to hear based on their age, maturity level, and life experience.
Be as honest as your comfortable with, but avoid phrases such as “putting to sleep” or “God took her”. Although not always, in some instances these references can cause children to develop a fear of sleep or a fear that God will take them or someone else from their lives as well.
Answer Questions Truthfully
Your children will come to you with questions. My son asked me “why did Cadie have to go?” and “Where is she now?”. We don’t have all the answers, (I know I sure didn’t!) and that’s alright. Sharing your own feelings and beliefs can be exactly what your child needs to hear. I found that by answering my son’s questions, I was in fact calming his fear of the unknown, unexpected, and uncontrollable associated with death. Also, by answering questions and admitting I did’t have all the answers showed him it’s OK to not understand it all themselves.
Include your children
Death stirs up many unpleasant emotions, but for children the feeling of being out of control can be overwhelming. By included them in decisions concerning things such as whether your pet will be buried or cremated, where they will be laid to rest or where the ashes of your pet will be scattered gives them back a sense of control over things in their life and helps to restore their confidence.
Honoring children’s feelings
The intense emotions our children may experience can be scary for them. Reassurance that this is normal and expected can alleviate some of their fear. Children all grieve differently, and although they tend to grieve for a shorter period of time when compared to adults, there is no right or wrong way.
It can be very detrimental to diminish their sadness with comments such as “just get over it” or “let it go” not only by parents but also by siblings. It is important to talk with siblings and be sure that they understand the importance of respecting each other’s feelings and to avoid saying such things to each other.
By creating a safe non-judgemental environment for your family, your children will feel comfortable expressing their feelings and verbalizing their needs.
Share Your Experiences
I found that sitting with my son before bedtime and reminiscing over funny things that had happened with Cadie over the years, as well as with other pets in the past helped to ease his sadness tremendously.
As we talked about my past experiences, he conveyed to me the sense of relief he felt knowing that others have felt the same way he feels, and that eventually it will become easier to remember the good things without becoming overcome with sadness.
We never stop loving or missing them, we just somehow adjust to life without them.
Heal through “doing”
Loss of a beloved family member reminds us of our own vulnerability and inability to control everything that happens in our world. For children, losing a loved one exposes them to the fact that life is not definite and that things can change (for the better or worse) in an instant.
A project that you create together can diminish some of the feelings of vulnerability and returns to them some sense of power over their world. It also serves as a reminder that their beloved pet will never be forgotten.
Some project ideas are:
Special Piece of Art in Pet’s memory
Create a scrapbook or memory book
Create a special picture frame
Plant a special plant or tree
Local animal shelters may offer pet memorials for small donation
Refrain from getting another pet right away
My son asked if we could get another dog. I explained that it would not be fair to the new dog or puppy to bring him or her into our family at this sorrowful time. Yes, it would serve as a distraction from our pain of losing Cadie, but eventually the sadness would have to be dealt with.
I explained to him that some of the emptiness he felt also stemmed from the change in our daily routine that resulted from Cadie’s absence. Cadie was no longer there to greet him at breakfast or meet him at the door after school.
Although it would take time to adjust to our new routine, eventually the strangeness of it would diminish.
He feared that Cadie would be forgotten or that he would forget how much he loved her. I explained that I had lost a lot of pets over the years, and I have never forgotten the special bond I had with each and everyone of them.
Inform People Involved in Your Child’s daily routine
It is important to inform a child’s school teacher or coach of the loss so that they can be prepared to accommodate questions or statements child may make. Understand that some form of “acting out” such as sudden behavior change is normal and should pass as child moves through the grieving process. If these behavior do not resolve on their own or become very disruptive or detrimental to child be sure to seek professional help such as your family pediatrician.
Take Care of Yourself
Through this difficult time it is immensely important that you take care of yourself. We cannot be there for our children when they need us if we don’t have anything left to give. Honor your emotions and grief and allow yourself to be sad, mad, scared or whatever else. Talk to other adults and reach out for support should you need it.
Let your child know that while the pain will eventually go away, the happy memories of their pet will always remain with them. Pets stay with us for such a short time, but the impact they have on us lasts a lifetime.
Here are some links which provide great information
So there you have it. I hope you found this information useful, and if you have any other suggestions for helping kids cope with pet loss leave a comment below!