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Savvy Parenting

The Loss of a Pet: 5 Methods of Helping Your Child Through Their First Exposure to Grief

If your pet gets sick, it is not the easiest time for the children in your family. When a pet gets really unwell and they have been a part of your family since your child was born, you have got to remember that your child has built their lives around them. When the inevitable moment arrives, and a pet passes away, it’s important to consider a few important tips to help your children through this difficult time. So what do you need to remember? 

Starting the Conversation

When it comes to breaking the news, honesty is always essential. Our children need to feel that we are open and honest because if we don’t, our kids could develop the feeling that death is something that is frowned upon or there is a type of stigma attached to it. As much as we don’t like to talk about death, it is a part of life. So this means that when it comes to our pets, we’ve got to bear the following in mind. 

*Do not use indirect language. Calmly explain the situation and be age-appropriate. But you also need to listen to them if they have questions. When it comes to explaining this, we need to stay away from the old cliches such as the pet going to live “next door” or “on the farm” because this doesn’t provide a sense of closure. 

*Give them comfort. Even if your child doesn’t seem upset at first, you don’t need to coerce them into feeling sad because of the event. They need to process everything in their own way. It is also a good idea to remind them that you feel sad as well and that you can work through it together as a family. Encouraging them to express themselves is also very important. 

Celebrating the Pet’s Life

As part of the grieving process, we need to remember that the reason they are sad is because of the love they feel for their pet, which is why the celebration aspect is so important. There are numerous ways that you can do this: 

*Hold a memorial. Planning a small memorial in the backyard or in their favorite park is an excellent way to speak about their life and mark the end of it with recognition and love. You can also purchase a special item, such as a dog memorial urn or a memorial stone, for the event. 

*Hanging a photo. You could also display some of your favorite images around the home and encourage your child to pick out some of their favorites, so they are part of the process. 

*Walk along your pet’s favorite route. If you’ve lost a dog, you could take the opportunity to walk along the route together. This might be difficult just after they’ve passed away, but it’s a little reminder that life can continue in similar ways.

Answer Their Questions

This is, understandably, incredibly important, because your child may have lots of questions if your pet died suddenly. This is going to be the first time that they’ve experienced grief, so you need to explain that it’s okay to feel a variety of emotions, whether it’s sadness or anger. 

We should also remember that blame is not constructive. Your child may want to blame the vet, but this could serve to build up some confusion about the concept of death and could instill a distrust of medical professionals. There will be a few common questions that your child will likely ask including: 

*Is this my fault? 

*Why did they go? 

*Will I ever see them again? 

*Is death something that lasts forever? 

It’s important to have discretion in these areas, depending on your child’s age. Death is something that is commonly associated with pain, but we have to remember that if your child starts asking questions about this, we may benefit from redirecting the conversation to highlight the fact that they are no longer in pain. 

Giving Your Child Some Helpful Resources

The grieving process is not one-size-fits-all. For children who have never experienced grief, it can be helpful to give your child some appropriate resources that will help them understand or process the information appropriately. A couple of movies that deal with the concept of death are the Pixar feature Up, and the movie All Dogs Go to Heaven. It’s also important to remember that there are many mindfulness resources for children that could benefit as well, especially if they are showing signs of struggling. 

Helping Them Through Their Grief

It may take some time for them to accept what has happened, and they may have mood swings or temper tantrums. Typically, these types of issues can last a few weeks. However, if your child is struggling to accept this, you may want to work with a professional counselor. Some signs that they are not processing the grief could include the following: 

*Withdrawal from Friends. 

*Imagining the pet is near them or is talking to them. 

*Lack of appetite. 

*Disrupted sleep. 

*An extended period of regression.

The loss of a pet is significant for people of any age. Your pet was a constant and loving presence in your home. For so many children, the loss of a pet is their first instance of death. And as unfortunate as the situation is, this can be the ideal opportunity to instill them with healthy approaches towards grief. 

Honoring their feelings and giving them attentive support can help them to have a more appropriate and healthy attitude towards the concept of grief. It can also be an opportunity to show that you can honor pets’ and people’s lives in an amazing way. As difficult as it can be, it can give us some insight into our own approach to handling grief. Because our children have never experienced something like this before, we can use this as a foundation to help them deal with the grieving process, but it can also help us to reassess our own approaches and attitudes to grief as well.

One Comment

  • Dave R

    My aunt and uncle recently lost their dog. She had Addison’s disease and lived much longer than any vets expected, so we were all grateful for that. It is always tough on the entire family when loosing a cherished pet.

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