Supporting Your Children After the Death of a Pet
From teaching your child to ride a bike to readying them for the first day of school, and so much in between, the death of a pet is by far one of the hardest situations for parents to explain to their children.
The loss of a pet is sometimes a child’s first introduction to death. Not only is it interwoven with deep sadness and grief, but also confusion – What is death? Where did my pet go? When can I see them again? This turmoil can also be complicated by your own distress and grief, and whether the death was sudden or after a lengthy illness.
To support you in this difficult time, your friends at Veterinary Oncology Services and Research Center have some recommendations for helping your children through this difficult time.
5 Ways to Help Kids Cope with the Death of a Pet
Pets are one of the greatest ways kids can understand responsibility and unconditional love. Sadly, this best friend forever will eventually grow old, or maybe even get sick, and die, as we all do. Although this is painful, there are some supports you can offer your children through this transition.
- Understand your child’s age and unique relationship with the pet – For kids below the age of 5, it may be hard to explain the death of your pet through communication. For older children, they may want to be included in euthanasia or a memorial service. Get to know your child’s level of understanding, as well as how close he or she was to the pet.
- Be truthful – In an attempt to lessen the pain, you may want to rely upon euphemisms like “he went to sleep” or “we lost Fluffy last night” which may imply that the pet did not die, but is away. By being gentle yet truthful about the death, it can help instill trust in your kid and allow him or her to experience the honesty of death while avoiding any morbid details.
- Be patient – Each child within the family may have entirely different responses, in terms of understanding the loss and grieving for it. Young children may “play-loss” with toys and stuffed animals, reenacting what death looks like for them, or through paintings and other art forms. In some cases, a child might act out, want to be alone, or become more attentive. Give your child patience to heal, but if your child is experiencing ongoing issues, you may wish to speak to a grief counselor.
- Allow for remembrance and ritual – One of the most cathartic ways your child can heal is through memorials or other ways to honor the loss. This could include a remembrance ceremony in the backyard or creating a scrapbook together. Allowing your kids to be included in planning the ceremony can allow them to fully heal.
- Give more hugs – During this time of grief, it is important to reach out and spend time with your child, as well as give lots of hugs. Adding extra affection can allow your child to feel safe and loved during this challenging time.
Some Helpful Books on Pet Loss
Some titles on helping children cope through grief include:
- The Rainbow Bridge…A Dog’s Story, by Judith Kristen
- I’ll Always Love You, by Hans Wilhelm
- Saying Goodbye to Lulu, by Corinne Demas
- The Goodbye Book, by Todd Parr
In addition to these, VOSRC has several pet loss resources on our website that may be of comfort and interest to your family.
If we can help you in any way, please do not hesitate to contact us.