Everyone experiences loss in a different way, and that includes children – no matter their ages. Often, the loss of a pet is a child’s first experience with death. While a complete understanding of death can vary by child, kids are aware of the loss and grieve at their developmental level. Parents can help children feel safe and build positive coping strategies that will serve children as they grow and experience loss in the future.
Children tend to grieve differently than adults; they may grieve in shorter bursts over a long period of time. Switching from grief to another task, such as play, can help children keep from becoming overwhelmed.
2. Be Concrete
When talking about death with children, it is helpful to be concrete. Use the words “died”, “dead”, or in the cause of euthanasia, “helped to die.” “When the body stops working” can be used as an explanation for death or chronic illness. Well-intentioned euphemisms such as “put to sleep” can be confusing and alarming to children and create fears around sleep and bedtime.
3. Provide a Safe Space
Sharing your feelings of grief with your child, on their level, can help normalize the experience and let them know these feelings are okay. This promotes healthy experiences with grief and loss in the future.
4. Help Your Child Memorialize Your Pet
Memorializing your pet can help your child experience their grief and honor their beloved pet. Here are a few memorial ideas:
- Plant a tree or pot a plant in the pet’s memory.
- Create a photo album of photos of the pet.
- Make an art project together such as drawing a picture or painting a portrait, a scrapbook, a shadow box, or whatever else inspires your child.
- For children who can write, your family can have a memorial where everyone writes a poem, story, or song about the pet. Encourage, but don’t force, everyone to recite their work.
- Together as a family, select a personalized memorial item such as a picture, jewelry, candle, wind chimes, garden stone, or similar items. Etsy has a lot of unique options!
- If your family chooses to donate or pass on your pet’s items, explain how giving the items will help another pet and include your children in the process. If they wish to do so, allow your child to select a special toy or collar to keep in your pet’s memory.
Everyone experiences loss in a different way, and that includes our children – no matter their ages. Whether your pet has been with your child their entire life or for a shorter span of time, a special bond has been created between them. So, when that pet is gone, it can be an emotional, confusing time. As you go through your own personal grief journey after the loss of your beloved pet, it’s important to also help guide your child through their own grief journey.
Recommended Children’s Books on Pet Loss:
- The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst and illustrated by Erik Blegvad (About the loss of a cat)
- Saying Goodbye to Lulu by Corinne Demas and illustrated by Ard Hoyt (About the loss of a dog)
- I’ll Always Love You by Hans Wilhelm (About the loss of a dog)
- The Invisible Leash: A Story Celebrating Love After the Loss of a Pet by Patrice Karst and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff
- Pet Loss Support Group
- Pet Loss Facebook Group
- AERC offers a private Facebook group to promote connection and sharing among those experiencing companion animal loss. Click to request to join.
- Social Worker
- AERC’s Human Animal Bond Social Worker is available to talk with you and help you connect with community resources. Contact Colleen Crockford to connect.