August 02, 2021
Anyone who has ever had a pet knows they’re another member of the family. That’s especially true for children: it’s the best friend who greets them when they walk in the house, and who they go to for comfort when they’re feeling down.
If your family has a pet, having to say goodbye some day is inevitable. For a child, losing a pet may be the first experience they have with death. But even it isn’t, they’ll still need help dealing with the heartbreak it involves. Here are some healthy ways to help children cope with the loss of a beloved pet.
How you share the news can have a huge impact. Find a quiet place where you can have a one-on-one conversation, and try to have a clear, direct conversation. Be honest, and let the questions your child asks guide what you share. If they ask questions about death, it’s okay to answer that you don’t know, and share your own thoughts, as well.
Depending on how old your child is, you will need to gauge the level of information they need to hear, but it’s important to stick with the truth. A child who hears their pet “went to sleep” may develop their own fear of the same, and being told a pet “ran away” may result in them feeling like they have to look for their friend.
The feelings that come with losing a pet are similar to other feelings of loss kids experience, such as the death of a family member or their parents getting a divorce. They’ll undoubtedly feel sadness, but they may also feel loneliness, anger, or even guilt. It’s important for your child to know that these feelings are normal.
If you’re personally struggling with the loss, it can help to openly express how you’re feeling as well. Children often feel comforted knowing that they are not alone in their feelings, and you can model for them how to express and deal with them appropriately — an important life skill.
In the immediate aftermath of loss, it may be hard to think about anything other than managing the feelings you, your kids, and other members of your family are experiencing. But over time, the immediate feelings of loss will begin to fade, and it’s important to help kids heal and move forward with their lives.
Start by helping kids memorialize their pet. A scrapbook is an opportunity to share fun memories, and to show how important the pet was to everyone in the family. You can also organize a ceremony to say goodbye, which can also help provide a sense of closure. It’s important to give kids time to grieve — losing a pet can be traumatic, and perhaps more impactful than any other loss they have experienced.
Down the line, your family may consider getting another pet. Before you do this, it’s important to make sure your child has fully processed their feelings. When that time does come, let them know you’re not replacing their beloved pet — but rather welcoming a new member of the family with whom you intend to make new memories with for many years to come.