When a pet dies, children often take it harder than an adult. Younger kids don’t understand why their beloved pet has gone and older children are just devastated at the realization they will never see their best friend again. If the pet died suddenly, the shock can be immense, but even if the pet finally passed on after a long illness or at the end of a long and happy life, the loss is still difficult for children to deal with. So how can you help your children cope during this difficult time?
Talk about Feelings
The best way to help a child deal with his or her difficult emotions is to encourage them to talk about how they are feeling. It can be tempting to try and gloss over the loss by pretending everything is ok, but attempting to shield your child from the pain of bereavement is not a good thing. The loss of a pet is difficult, but bottling up the emotion will only make the situation harder to deal with.
Have a Remembrance Service
One way of helping children come to terms with the loss of a pet is to have a remembrance service. You don’t have to go overboard and invite the whole neighborhood along, but a simple event with close friends and family will give your child the opportunity to say goodbye to their friend. How you organize the service will depend on the pet. Smaller pets such as goldfish or gerbils can be buried in the garden, at which point it may be appropriate to let the child say a few words. If you opt to have a larger pet cremated, you could decide to scatter the ashes somewhere meaningful and turn a sad event into a celebratory one. There really is no right or wrong way to hold a remembrance service—talk to your child and see if they have any ideas of their own.
Create a Memory Board
If a child is struggling to deal with the loss of a pet, encouraging them to create a memory board may help them work through some of their sadness and grief in a positive way. Look through photos together and choose some of your favorite ones. Turn these into a collage and add extra drawings or poems. Once everyone is happy with the finished memory board, hang it somewhere prominent. It will be hard to do, but facing the difficult emotions rather than pushing them aside will make the loss easier to cope with.
Talk about a New Pet
At some point the subject of bringing a new pet into the family home may arise. Some children may find the idea upsetting, so it is important to let them know that you are not trying to replace the deceased pet. Instead, impress upon your child that they will learn to love a new pet in a different way. Sometimes a new pet can help heal the pain of losing a beloved pet, so even if you are not keen on buying another pet, don’t be too quick to dismiss the idea.
Children are often more resilient than we give them credit for, but if your child appears withdrawn and depressed after losing a pet, keep a close eye on the situation and encourage them to talk about their feelings.
About the Author
Today’s feature contributor, Richard Earnshaw, works as an undertaker. He uses guest posting to share his thoughts on many life events and helps others overcome the loss of a loved one. His day job is at All State Cremation, a provider of simple cremation services in Cheshire CT.