For most families, having a pet is a positive experience, especially for their kids. Having a dog, a cat, or even a small pet like a guinea pig teaches kids responsibility and empathy toward animals while they are young. When a pet dies, this can be especially hard on the children; however, there are several ways to help your child grieve for their pet that will help them through the difficult process of losing a special friend.
Understand that there is no one correct reaction to the news that a pet has died. Young children may not understand that the pet is gone and might not seem to react at all.
Older children may ask questions that might seem shocking to you, such as what happened to the body or how the pet died.
While some children might cry, others might not, but that doesn’t mean that their reaction is abnormal.
While you might think it’s upsetting for your kids to see you cry, you should allow them to see you grieve over the pet as well.
This will make them understand that crying is a natural part of the grieving process and that everyone in the family is sad over the loss.
Sometimes, sharing grief is one of the best ways for the healing process to begin, especially with children who are dealing with this experience for the first time.
Wanting to shield your kids from this kind of pain is a natural reaction, but you should never lie about the death of a pet.
Telling the child the dog or cat ran away or that you sent it to live somewhere else will never give them the kind of closure they need to grieve in a healthy manner.
If you had to have your pet euthanized, be straightforward about it, but avoid telling your child the dog “went to sleep.” The child may start to associate sleep with dying and become fearful when it’s time for bed.
If possible, hold a burial for the pet. If local health laws do not allow pet burial on your property, allow your child to make a marker or even a scrapbook for the pet.
Look at pictures together to encourage conversation and to share happy memories.
Let your child ask questions about the pet’s death and be as honest as possible in your answers.
If you withhold information, this will lead the child to believe that death is something that shouldn’t be discussed.
Being honest and discussing the death will foster healthy attitudes about grief and loss later on in life.
Over the course of their grief, kids might tell you that they’re angry at God for taking their pet away, tell you repeatedly that they want the pet back, or even bargain for its return.
These are all typical aspects of the grieving process. Be supportive and never react with anger, and eventually they will move into the final stage of acceptance.
When the time is right, introduce a new pet into the household. While no animal can replace another, getting a puppy or a kitten can help soothe the loss of the previous one.
However, don’t rush into this choice, as your child might feel as they are being disloyal to the dead pet if they love another.
The family should take time together to deal with the loss before they move ahead, which will foster healthy attitudes in your kids about the cycle of life and death.