The death of a beloved pet is one of the most difficult paths we walk as humans, and can rock us to the very core. For children the experience can be especially intense, and consideration must be taken to help them understand death and learn how to cope with grief.
Children and pet loss certainly isn’t the most lighthearted subject, but it’s one that many families will face eventually. Your friends at Billings Animal Family Hospital hope that our insights on children and pet loss can help you and your loved ones through this turbulent time.
Meet Them Where They Are
Your child’s age and developmental level will have a lot to do with how they process the death of a pet:
- Preschool – Children under age 5 generally have a more difficult time understanding death than older kids. Be very clear that your pet is not coming back, and make sure your child feels comfortable grieving in any way that feels appropriate. Pay special attention to any changes in behavior, such as loss of appetite, nightmares, or reversion to bed wetting, and seek help as needed.
- Elementary age – Older kids generally have a better grasp on death, and their feelings around the subject can be overwhelming for them. Be patient with their emotions, and do your best to answer all questions honestly. Don’t rush to “make it all better” by adopting another pet, but rather allow their grief to run its course naturally and give them time to heal.
- Teens – Teenagers tend to process death much in the same ways as adults. Encourage your teen to talk about their feelings, and make sure they know it’s ok to cry or express their grief in whatever way feels best.
A Celebration of Life
One of the most important aspects of dealing with children and pet loss is to honor the life of the deceased pet. A formal ceremony or project that memorializes your pet is a wonderful way to channel grief and provide a sense of closure. Try the following ideas, and make sure to include your child in the process:
- Organize a memorial service
- Put together a scrapbook
- Plant a garden in your pet’s honor
- Frame a few of your child’s favorite pictures of the pet and hang them in a prominent place in the home
Children and Pet Loss Resources
Ask your local library or your child’s school library for books dealing with children and pet loss. You can also check out this printable workbook from the Rainbow Bridge website.
Please let us know if we can be of any assistance to you or your child as you process the death of a family pet.