Helping Children Cope with Pet Loss

Of all the things that make a house a home, few are as important as the family pet. Whether the pet is a gerbil, a Great Dane, or a little gray tabby, there are no means by which we can measure the significance of the role that animals play in our families. All too often it is not until the pet becomes lost or passes away that we realize just how much we loved him or her. Until that happens, it is difficult to imagine life without Fido or Felix. When it does happen, it can have varying effects on virtually every member of the family. Emotions can range from complete devastation and depression to total lack of concern. Just as some people are more devastated by the break up of a marriage, a job loss, or other personal life crisis, some people take the death of a companion animal much more seriously than others.

For children, the trauma of the event can be compounded because its often their first real encounter with the reality and finality of death. It can be a terrifying and heart breaking experience for them. Learn more about helping a child cope with the loss of a pet, below.

Be Honest About the Loss

The biggest mistake adults can make in discussing the passing of a pet is to say the animal was "put to sleep." You think that the child will envision the deceased pet curled up on a fluffy pillow in heaven. In reality, what they imagine is that they themselves may go to sleep at night and never wake up again. Or they may confuse the term with a general anesthetic at the hospital where you ego to sleepe for an operation.

As difficult as it may be for you, tell your child simply that their pet has died. It is not necessary to give complete details or to point fingers and place the blame on anyone or anything else. Just be straightforward and honest. Avoid using any misleading and confusing euphemisms.

How “Old” is Too Old?

Another mistake we often make in discussing companion animal death with children is to dwell on the concept that the pet was old. Think of how it must sound to a 12-year-old boy when you tell him that 13-year-old Brandy died of "old age." If you fail to stress the vast difference in the life spans of animals and humans you could be putting your child through a great deal of unnecessary psychological trauma.

Never Underestimate The Power of a Hug

When you are consoling a bereaved child, the first thing you must communicate to the child is that he/she is not alone. One of the best ways to do this is through touch.

If your quiet time and discussions turn out to be nothing more than a time to hold each other and weep, that's okay. This is the correct time to express your deep-felt loss, and crying is an integral part of the grief process. The ability to talk about the things you loved about the pet, without breaking into tears, will come with time.

It is also important for children to hear the news about this sad loss from a parent or person they love and respect. Although we may be overcome with grief ourselves, we must take the time to express the positive feelings about the deceased pet with our children. Most importantly, allow the children time to talk about how they feel about the death.

Look In A Book

There are several excellent picture books that can be used as tools to help young children cope with pet loss. These books are most useful in a case where the pet is terminally ill or very old.

For parents (and teachers) who have spent years nurturing children to love and respect other living creatures, the death of a pet can be exceptionally difficult to explain or comprehend. However, as sad as it may be, it is a natural part of life-one that we should handle as gently and tenderly as we would a newborn kitten. Here are some books that can help:

Article submitted by: © Terri Perrin

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