Helping Children Cope with the Death of a Pet
Losing the family pet can be particularly hard on children.
This may be the first experience your child has with the death of a loved one and he or she may not even remember a time when their furry friend was not part of the family. It’s important that we give the event adequate attention.
For children, pets are furry companions, siblings, playmates, and protectors.
Their grieving process calls for guidance so that they can begin to understand loss, to mourn, and to remember.
So, it’s important for parents to have bereavement support for themselves, in order to help their children.
Tips for Helping Children Cope
- It’s OK to be sad: Your child may feel uncomfortable with the emotions he or she is feeling and look to you for reassurance that’s it’s ok to be sad that his or her pet is gone. A hug would probably be good too.
- Be Honest: It may be tempting to make up a story to protect your child from the truth, but most experts recommend that you be honest about what has happened.
- Let Them Help: Contributing to the family effort may offer comfort to many children. Planning a memorial service, writing a goodbye letter to the pet, or setting up a special memory spot may give your child and outlet for expressing his or her grief.
- Encourage Discussion: Talking about the pet, the feelings associated with the loss, and what will happen now that the pet is gone can help both you and your child work through the grief.
- Talk About Death: What you say about death will depend on the age and maturity of your child, but it is important to remember that your child may not know what it means. He or she may also feel responsible in some way.
If your child loses a pet, it’s wise to inform teachers or other caregivers, so they understand possible changes in behavior.
Your child’s grief may diffuse his or her attention during class.
They may forget homework, keep to themselves or be aggressive. Being informed of a recent loss helps the teacher address these changes.
Children need guidance to cope—and support from others in your child’s life is helpful.
Children are naturally curious about death, but their age and familial attitudes cause varied behaviors, which means a parent may need to impart a variety of coping skills.
How a child responds depends on:
- The child’s age, maturity level, and stage of development
- The strength of the bond with the pet
- The behavior of the adults around them.
While different ages and levels of maturity call for varied responses to children and pet loss, there are a few tips that apply to all ages.
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Children at 2 and 3 Years
Young children lack the experience to understand the loss of a pet, but they can sense that you are coping with grief.
They will model your behavior.
This means it’s acceptable to show your own feelings as a normal reaction to loss.
It’s OK to explain that the pet has died and will not come back.
For children at this age, it’s critical that they understand that they are not responsible for the death.
It’s also important to maintain the child’s routine.Young children will easily accept new pets.
The 4 to 6 Year Old
Children may wonder if their pet is sleeping or continuing their activities. Sometimes they’re angry with their pet.
Feelings of grief may translate into stomach aches or changes in sleeping or eating habits.
Casual, matter-of-fact talks with the child can be reassuring and make the child comfortable with discussing his or her feelings.
Creative expression, such as drawing pictures and writing stories, can help.
Children of this age can also be included in funeral arrangements.
How Can We Help?
We’ve experienced pet loss in our own families, and know what you may be going through. As a result, allow us to share 30 days of grief affirmations with you.
Lee Funeral Services