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Helping Kids Grieve the Loss of a Pet

Helping a Child Grieve the Loss of a Pet

For kids, and families, pets are more than just an animal.  They are friends, companions and family members. 

Unfortunately, losing a pet is a fact of life and part of growing up.  When we lose a pet from old age, illness or an accident it can be heart breaking for kids and grown-ups alike. 

Pets are often part of a child’s routine.  Pets can be the first to greet kids when the wake up, when they get home from school and often pets sleep with kids at night.  Your family pet may be who your child looks to for comfort, companionship or for a pal that will listen without judgement.

We cannot shelter our kids from the loss of a pet, but we can help them learn to cope and grieve in a healthy way.  It is hard for parents to see their child hurting, but this can be a good learning experience on how to cope with other losses throughout life.

One of the hardest things about losing a pet is breaking the news to your kids.  Try to do so calmly and in a compassionate, but not dramatic, manner.  Do so in a one-on-one setting where your child feels safe and is able to ask questions and express feelings.

As with any difficult situation, try to gauge how much information your child needs to hear based on his or her age, maturity level and understanding.  If your pet needs to be put down you may want to explain that the veterinarian has done everything possible to help your pet, the pet is sick and won’t get better, this is the kindest thing to do so your pet isn’t in pain and the pet will die peacefully without being in pain. 

Your child’s age, maturity level and understanding will help determine whether or not you should explain the process.  If your child is old enough and mature enough it is ok to use words like “death” and “dying”.  It is also ok to explain what will happen when your pet is put asleep.  It is very hard to watch a pet be put to sleep, so use a lot of caution if your child would like to be present.  For most children this is not appropriate.  Many kids want a chance to say good-bye beforehand. 

If you have to euthanize your pet be careful about saying you put your pet “to sleep” with younger children.  Younger kids may interpret this literally and may become scared about sleeping or surgery. 

If your pet’s death is more sudden be brief and answer your child’s questions as is appropriate. 

Don’t lie to your child about your pet passing away.  Be as honest as you can.

Like anyone dealing with a loss, kids will feel a variety of emotions after losing a pet.  They may be lonely, sad, angry or frustrated.  Some children may feel guilty that they did not care for their pet as well as they could of. 

Help your kids to understand that it is natural and ok to have big “hard” feelings, especially after losing a pet.  Some kids may want to discuss the loss right away while other kids may need more time.  Let your child know you will always be there to talk about it when they are ready. 

You should talk to your child about your feelings too.  Let your child know that you are also sad about losing your pet.  Let your child know it is ok to cry and feel sad when you lose a loved one.  Share stories about your pet to remember good things about him or her. 

After your child has had time to grieve it is important to help your child to heal and move forward. 

It can help kids to find a special way to remember your pet.  Perhaps a ceremony in the yard or writing something about what your pet meant to you.  Share stories or even make a scrapbook.

Remember that grieving the loss of a pet is much like grieving over a person.  For many, pets offered love and companionship day in and day out. 

Talk about your pet often and with love.  Let your child know that over time the pain won’t be so bad and you will still have good memories about your pet. 

 

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