How to help children cope with losing a pet is a subject that is close to many of our hearts. Be it our children or grandchildren coping with the death of a pet can be very difficult for children.
Pets are members of the family, and children tend to be very attached to them. When a pet dies, for many children it’s the first experience they’ve had with death or losing someone very close to them. It’s a delicate situation, and it’s very hard. You want to help your child deal with the loss as best you can, but it’s hard to know the right things to do. Here are some ways you can help your child deal with losing a pet.
Explain the Situation
Talking to your child about their pet’s death is upsetting for everyone. The important thing is that you stay calm and reassuring. Depending on your child’s age and maturity level, you will decide how much information is appropriate to provide. Don’t be afraid to use words like “death.” Telling a young child that an animal is “sleeping” will confuse them, because they think of things in literal terms. Discuss the euthanasia process, or break the news of a sudden death concisely.
Your child will undoubtedly have questions about the death of their pet, so be prepared to answer questions about where their pet is and what happened to it. Don’t provide more information than they can handle or ask for. Allow your child to guide the discussion with their questions.
Offer Your Support
It’s important for your child to know that feelings of grief are normal. Encourage them to express their feelings and talk to you about anything they want to. Tell them not to hold their feelings inside. Your child should feel safe talking to you, and you should also support them by not talking to them about the situation if they don’t want to discuss it at the moment.
There are many different activities you can do with your child to help them cope. For example, ask your child to draw a picture of their pet or write them a letter. Have a memorial service to say goodbye, and release balloons or plant flowers in the pet’s memory. Make a photo album of photos of their pet with them, or create a scrapbook of memories and mementos. As a family, sit together and share fond memories of your pet.
There are lots of great books for children that can help them understand and cope with pet loss. Check some out at your local library, and read them with your child. The ASPCA recommends “Goodbye Mousie” by Robie H. Harris, and “Desser the Best Ever Cat” by Maggie Smith.
Your child may feel very down, but you should help them maintain their normal routines, such as going to school, sports practice, or playing with their friends outside. Keep family routines like eating dinner together or going out on the weekend the same, so that your child will feel a sense of normalcy and realize that while the family may not be the same, it hasn’t changed completely.
Susan Wright is a vet, a dog expert and a freelance writer. Visit this website to see a pet project of Dr. Wright that includes how to deal with kids and pets when your pet is lost or stolen.