Dealing with the loss of a pet is never easy. Pet owners love their animal companions and many consider them members of their family. Therefore, it is not unusual to experience sadness and difficulty after the loss of a pet. This event can be especially distressing for children. Many kids share a deep bond with their pet and may not even remember a time in their life when the pet wasn’t around.
It may be your child’s first encounter with death, and your first opportunity to teach them about coping with grief and loss.
How you handle the grieving process can positively or negatively determine your child’s experience.
As a way to soften the news, some parents try to shield their children from the sadness by either not talking about the pet’s death, or by not being honest about what has happened. Pretending the animal ran away, for example, can leave a child feeling even more confused and betrayed when they learn the truth.
The loss can generate many new and overwhelming emotions such as fear, anger or guilt. It is very important to be honest, and explain what happened in a way they can understand.
Here are a few tips that can help you support your child through the process:
- Let your child see you express your own grief from the loss of the pet.
- Holding a funeral or creating a memorial for the pet can help your child express their feelings openly and help process the loss. Allow the child to be involved if they desire.
- If your pet is euthanized, be careful about saying the animal went “to sleep” or “got put to sleep.” Kids tend to interpret events literally, so this can create fears or misconceptions about sleep or surgery.
- Honor your child’s feelings and help them to express their grief and sadness.
- Don’t rush or feel obligated to get a “replacement pet”.
Grief is a highly individual experience.
When you offer patience, acceptance, and allow your child the opportunity to grieve (in their own way), you are teaching them that it is possible to deal with loss in a manageable and healthy manner.
Written By: Michelle Rathburn, LAMFT