Even if they are not humans, pets are undoubtedly part of the family. For this reason, the loss of a beloved canine or feline can be very difficult to grapple with. If the death of a pet is hard for adults, just imagine what it can do to your kids.
Some kids experience losing their elderly loved ones in their childhood and have attended funeral services. However, for others, losing a family pet could be their first brush of experience with the concept of death. The loss can be compounded, especially if the pet’s death is sudden and unexpected.
Notably, children express their grief differently, depending on their age, maturity level, and personality. Therefore, it is vital to support your kids and provide guidance for this difficult period. Check out some helpful tips to help your children mourn the loss of a pet.
Encourage Openness and Honesty
You may be tempted to sugarcoat your words or tell a white lie to help your children deal with the pet’s loss. However, this can be counterproductive. For example, instead of painting a story that the pet visited another family member or went on vacation to a barn, it will be more damaging to your children to keep waiting and then the pet doesn’t return. So instead, be open right from the very start.
It is also vital to watch your language when speaking about death. If your children are 6 and below, they can feel confused when you equate death with a phrase like “our pet went to sleep” or “our dog is in a better place.”
Instead, be direct and gentle using soft tones. Let them know that the pet has died and will no longer come back. Provide tons of comforts in the form of hugs. Answer any questions they have. For older children who are mature enough to understand the situation, you can also share details. As a parent, you know your kids best. You must feel confident in determining how each child can process the information.
Find Ways to Preserve Memories
Prepare for an onslaught of pain, especially after the first few days after the pet funeral ceremonies. To help your children mourn and heal, reflect on fun memories with your pet. Do not focus on the loss, but go back down memory lane on how your beloved fur-baby enriched your family life. You can do the following with your ids:
- Make a nice frame for your favorite family photo with your pet
- Ask your kids to create pet drawings to hang on your fridge
- Plant a memorial potted plant or garden (if you have space) in honor of their pet’s memory
Explain to your kids that doing these things will help you remember and mourn your pet. Remind them that feeling sad will never discount the happy times the pet spent in your family’s care. Recall the joy your pet brought into your family’s life to help your children heal.
Take the Time to Grieve Together
Grief is hard enough for adults and even more difficult when done alone. The same applies to children, too. Let your kids know that they can share their feelings and cry if they want to. In fact, it would be healthy to let them know you feel sad, too. To help you and your kids cope with your pet’s death, you can try the following:
- Read a children’s book together on pet loss
- Watch a heart-warming movie with pets to remind you of fun times
- Create a memorial for your pet like a DIY figurine as a crafting project
These activities will help children manage their intense emotions. It is also a gentle approach that can teach the concept of death to younger kids. Meanwhile, older kids can probably handle more mature content, so you can explore more complex resources and discuss details together.
Seek Help If Necessary
It is normal to struggle with grief. But if your children still have a very rough time several weeks after the pet’s death, it would be prudent to call their pediatrician. Talking to a counselor helps your kids manage their grief journey. In addition, a professional can assist them in channeling their feelings in a more productive way.
Whether you have lost an older dog or a new baby kitty, it is very normal to feel grief when the pet dies. You must help your children process the loss and allow them to express their feelings. This is a teachable moment that will help your children learn to cope with loss and grief. By communicating and talking about good memories, your pet’s loss can even bring your family closer to one another. Now is the time to exemplify courage and remind your children you will be there for them no matter what happens.