The death of a beloved pet is difficult for anyone to deal with, but it can be especially challenging for children. It’s often their first encounter with death. The grieving process can be overwhelming, especially when you’re too young to understand your feelings. As a parent, you want to do what you can to help your child, but where do you start?
This blog post will help you understand what your child might be feeling in the event that they lose their animal companion, and give tips on how to talk to them about it. You’ll also find some helpful resources that may come in handy during this trying time.
Let Your Child Know That It’s Okay to Grieve
You need to let your child know that it’s okay to grieve. It’s okay to cry and feel whatever emotions he feels. Don’t try to push your child to “get over” the loss. If your child has never experienced death before, this can be a traumatic experience. Work with your child to help him work through his emotions and find ways to cope with the loss.
Suggested Readings (available via Amazon – these are referral links):
- When a Pet Dies by Fred Rogers
- The Rainbow Bridge: A Visit to Pet Paradise by Adrian Raeside
- The Invisible Leash: A Story Celebrating Love After the Loss of a Pet by Patrice Karst
Explain Grief to Your Child
Talk to your child about the stages of grief. The five stages include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Chances are you’ll see these stages in your child before he understands what he’s feeling. Sit down each day and talk to your child about how he feels. Understand that your child may act out while grieving, but it’s important to let them come to terms with the loss.
When a child loses his pet, he may go through these stages:
- Denial – “It’s not possible!” or “She can’t be gone.”
- Anger – The anger stage is when children often show aggression and are more likely to lash out against pets or people.
- Bargaining – “I’ll be good and she can come back.”
- Depression – This is the stage where children may cry a lot, have difficulty sleeping, or experience changes in eating habits, such as refusing food. Children are also more likely to withdraw from social activities because they’re consumed with thinking about their pet.
- Acceptance – This is the final stage when children realize that they will never see their pet again. Encourage them to think about the good memories that they had together.
Hold a Ceremony
Consider holding a memorial ceremony for your child’s pet. Ask your child what he wants to do. Depending on where you live, you may not have the option to bury your pet at home. These areas usually have pet cemeteries. Another option is cremation. Talk to your child about whatever options are available in your area. Whatever the choice, make sure to take the time to say something nice about the pet.
Here are some tips for holding a pet memorial service at home:
- Write a special message for your pet on an obituary and build a memorial out of flowers, photos, or anything else that symbolizes the life you shared with him.
- If there are any favorite toys around the house, it’s nice to include them in this ceremony as well.
- Consider lighting some candles and/or placing some flowers nearby.
- If you have a pet burial, take the time to say something nice about him in front of everyone gathered there for this service.
Remember the Good Times
Help your child focus on the good memories he had with the pet. You may even want to print out some pictures from your smartphone and hang them in your child’s room. Focusing on the good memories with his pet can help your child deal with the loss.
Ask your child to write down or draw some of his favorite memories with the pet and place them in a special book that you can share together when he is ready.
Help Your Child Create a Way to Memorialize His Pet
Last, but not least, work together with your child to create something that memorializes the pet. You could put a shadow box together with your pet’s collar, favorite toy, and a picture. Create a scrapbook with your favorite memories. Perhaps you’d even like to name a star after your pet.
The loss of a pet is something that almost every child faces at some point. It doesn’t matter if the pet was a bug your child adopted from the back yard, a goldfish, or a dog – the type of pet doesn’t matter. In many cases, this is the first time your child will experience a great loss. It’s important that you give your child time to grieve. If you’re not used to exploring your emotions, you may have trouble helping your child work through his. However, you need to do what you can to be there for your child and let him know that his emotions are perfectly normal.