We all love our pets. But children can sometimes experience a much closer love than adults do, it has something to do with dependence and eternal hope and not understanding that things are finite. Children have a fierce love, and they often love without fear. Which may be why they bond s closely with their animals, animals and children are both very innocent and they have no real understanding of the end. Yet the end is always coming. Death is something that is very hard to understand at any age, especially the death of a loved one, but understanding and coping with that as a child can be nearly impossible. That is why as parents we are here to help our children to love, learn, and grieve when tragedy strikes.
Tragedy can come at anytime, with anyone. But today let’s focus on the death of a pet. While some children understand that people get old and eventually die they do not always grasp the fact that a pet can die, especially if that pet is young. Children automatically think that if you are young nothing can ever happen to you, you are invincible. Although as parents we wish that were the case we know it is not. That is why we need to be prepared to help our children with the loss of a pet, their best friend.
Sudden death or finding a pet dead:
This is a very difficult situation. When a child happens upon a beloved pet that has passed they may not understand what has happened, especially if it was a peaceful passing. If the dog or cat has just fallen asleep and died peacefully they may appear to be just sleeping. It is when their eyes are open or there has been bodily injury that it becomes apparent to the child. It can be shocking to find the pet, but soothe your child with words that tell them the pet was in a lot of pain and is now safe, in this sleeping state they are free and do not feel the pain. If you can try taking the pet to the vet, or explain that the animal is so hurt that not even the vet could save them. Remind your child that sometimes pets don’t survive, despite best attempts to save them.
Signs of grief in children – warning signs:
As we know children can take longer to grieve, even small things like losing at checkers. When dealing with a loss this large it is important to look for signs of bigger issues.
-Withdrawing from friends and family
-Not eating, or eating less
-Regressing or going backwards in things like potty training or wetting the bed
-Nightmares or the inability to sleep
-Inability to be left alone
If these things are happening seek out a pet loss support group. The Humane Society can help you find one in your area.
Ways to help with the loss of a pet:
-Plan a funeral. While most people think a funeral means the loss of something it is actually the celebration of something, the life of your pet. Have everyone in your family think of a. Great time they shared with the pet. Gather some pictures, toys, and things that remind you of the pet. Put together a little box of memorial and either keep it as a memento or bury it as a way to commemorate the dogs life.
-Keep pictures of the pet around, think of happy times together. Find ways to think of the pet and not forget about them, they were important to your family, make your child understand that by keeping the pets memory alive so that they are still part of the family and always will be.
-Cry! Crying is not a baby activity. It is a way to let out emotions. It helps to wash away the pain. Remind your child that they can cry for their pet, if they loved them, cry for them.
-While some parents first instinct is to replace the pet it is often a bad choice. You do not want your child to think that they can replace someone or something they love easily. They may feel betrayed if you buy a new pet, they may feel confused. Let them make the decision to move on. Allow a time of healing, it may take days, weeks, or even months, but they will eventually start looking at other friends pets, lingering at the animal aisle at the store, or they may come right out and ask for a new pet. When this time comes sit with them and talk about how a new pet will be a new friend and that this friend will be different and will not replace their friend, but will help them to open their heart and make room for new friends.
Death is a difficult subject at any age, so remember that dealing with death for a child can be very scary and treacherous, but together we can conquer our fear and our grief.