Trying to help children grieving for a pet can add another layer to your own grief. Not only are you hurting for the loss of your beloved family pet, but you are also worried about how your kids are dealing with the loss. Everyone, adult and child, will grieve in their own way. Children will grieve differently depending on their age and maturity level. There is nothing you can do to speed this process along, and you shouldn’t try, but there are some things you can do to help alleviate all the tension and confusion that can be felt at this difficult time.
The first thing you need to do is explain that your pet is gone. Very young children, generally under the age of 7, won’t really be able to comprehend the permanence of death. No matter what the age of your children they will most likely have a lot of questions. You should answer those questions as completely and accurately as possible. Encourage open and honest communication.
It’s also ok to let your kids see you’re sad too. While you don’t want to freak them out by having loud outbursts, that would likely only scare them, it’s ok to show sadness and cry. It’s important for them to understand that feeling sad is normal and alright.
If you feel your kids would benefit from having some sort of memorial for your pet than by all means, do it. Again, this will depend on several factors such as the age, maturity, and even the religious beliefs of your family. A small marker in your backyard might also give your kids a place to go to ‘be’ with their friend.
Encourage them to talk about their pet and the times they had together. While this will be sad it’s also an opportunity for your kids to learn that it’s important to remember the good times and to not just ‘forget’ about their lost pet.
One thing that is probably not a good idea is to rush out and get a new pet. It’s important that your kids don’t think of living creatures as ‘disposable’ and replaceable. Give them adequate time to grieve before you consider getting another pet.
Getting a new pet too soon can also be bad because it will shorten the natural grieving process. With a new pet to focus on your child may not grieve for their other pet sufficiently which can lead to unexpected bouts of sadness and grief down the road. It’s best to allow your kids, and yourself, enough time to properly grieve for your lost pet…no matter how long that takes.
When you have children grieving for a pet it can really break your heart. Not only are you trying to deal with your own grief, but you’d do anything to take away the pain your kids are feeling. There is nothing you can do to eliminate their grief, but if you show them that grieving is normal and ok, it can make this time a little easier. Let your kids know that they can take as long as they need to say goodbye to their friend.