How to Help Your Child Cope with the Loss of a Pet
Your cat or your dog is more than just an animal you own. It's a member of the family and one of your best friends. The more attached you become to your pet, the more difficult it is to cope with its loss.
Similarly, your children may bond to your pet and may be just as devastated by grief when it dies. Younger children might not fully understand what happens when a pet dies, and special consideration should be made when helping them cope with the loss.But don't give up hope. The grieving process may take time, but together, you and your children will eventually heal.
Sharing the News
Losing a pet is hard for anyone, so it's understandable that you'll want to soften the blow. It might be tempting to hedge around the incident, or even hide the fact from your child. However, most experts advise being honest and upfront with your children and giving age-appropriate explanations.Need some help? These tips might get you started:
- Stick to the facts. Rather than saying your pet "ran away" or went to a "pet farm," tell your child what happened, whether your pet was hit by a car or died of old age. You don't have to go into gruesome details, but let your child know what he or she wants to know – and be completely honest.
- Don't use euphemisms. Young children don't always grasp the concept of death, so it might seem easier to compare death to "sleeping" or "going away." However, euphemisms like this may confuse your child and even make him or her afraid to sleep or leave the house. Instead, be gentle when explaining that your pet will not come back.
- Share your grief. As an adult, it might be tempting to hide your grief so you can seem strong and reassuring. However, it can help your child if you share your grief. Let your child know that it's normal to be sad or mad for a while and that you miss your pet, too.
Signs of Grief
Some children might not react to a pet’s death simply because they do not fully grasp the concept of death, or perhaps they were not as interested in your furry friend as you may have thought.
On the other hand, children also grieve differently than adults. If your child exhibits any of the following, then he or she may still be grieving the loss of your pet:
- Lack of interest in usual activities
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Eating less than usual
- Fear of being alone
- Preoccupied with death
These signs are normal, and it’s best to reassure your child and provide any assistance and guidance you can. Be comforting without forcing your child to feel or act a certain way. Children take longer to cope with loss than adults, and you can expect a short period of depression or gloominess. If your child continues to grieve for longer time periods, then it might be best to have your child talk with a counselor.
Coping With Grief
Everyone copes differently with grief, and it takes time to heal. Fortunately, there are healthy ways of coping with the pain:
- Don’t tell your child how to feel. It’s not appropriate to tell your child to "move on" or "get over it." Let your child feel angry, sad, lonely, or frustrated, as this is part of the grieving process.
- Keep your child involved. Funeral preparations can help your child cope with the loss of a pet. They can give an opportunity for you and your family to express feelings about your pet and say "goodbye." Keeping your child involved in the decision-making process or having him or her say a few words at the ceremony may give the closure your child needs.
- Memorialize your pet. Let your child hold onto happy memories of your pet. Creating a scrapbook, drawing pictures, or planting a living memorial (such as a flower garden) can help your child focus on the positive aspects of your pet’s life rather than the negative experience of its death.
While it’s appropriate to take some time to cope with the grief, it also helps to try to maintain a normal routine after the loss of a pet. Surviving pets and family members can become stressed by grief, and maintaining a routine can help things feel normal.
Taking Time to Heal
The loss of a pet can be devastating to some, so allow you and your children plenty of time to heal and cope with the loss. After an appropriate amount of time has passed, you may want to consider getting another pet to join your family.
However, don’t feel rushed to get a new pet. The new puppy or kitten will never fully replace your old pet. Don’t expect your new furry friend to behave in the same way your old pet did or to bond with your children in the same way. If a child is still grieving, he or she may even resent the new pet. Wait until your child shows interest in having a new pet, and then carefully discuss it with your children.
Hopefully, these tips will help you and your child cope with the loss of your pet. While it may be heartbreaking now, remember that the shock and pain will eventually fade, while the happy memories of your pet will always be with you.
Feel free to contact our veterinary experts at Brimley-Lawrence Animal Clinic in Toronto for more tips on caring for your pets.