Photo credit: Melani Swartz
There is never an easy way to overcome the loss of a pet. It’s hard for absolutely everyone involved – including the little ones. However, young children may not fully understand the reality of such a scenario. This uncertainty leads to parents feeling helpless, their minds littered with questions: Should I explain what happened? Should we hire a therapist? Should we make up a story?
There is never a clean-cut answer because no child is the same.
Along with individual uniqueness comes hope. Since each child has their own personality and way of handling tough situations, parents can decide which way may work best for them when confronting this kind of concern. Below are some suggestions to help your child through this difficult transition.
Photo credit: Amber Bowman
Though your children may have a hard time focusing on a tough conversation for long, ongoing discussions may be just what they need. Many of their questions may be difficult to answer, but by reinforcing the fact that their pet is no longer sick or in pain may be the safest statement to stick to.
“When our first dog died, our daughter was only 1.5 years old. She couldn’t understand where Molly went and would ask about her frequently. It was heartbreaking,” Melani Swartz, mother of one, says. “I tried to be as honest as I could about how she got sick and that she was gone now. It was very hard.”
Being as honest as possible may be the hardest, most beneficial thing a parent does for their child when overcoming this kind of loss.
Allow Grief to Happen
No parent wants to watch their child cry. However, holding back those tears can create a wall of emotion parents also don’t want their little one to endure. By facing those tough feelings without fear, your child will know it’s okay to feel a certain way.
New emotions often embarrass children because they don’t understand what’s going on inside their mind and body. Even worse, when those emotions are pushed aside or looked at in a negative light, children may grow up having unhealthy coping skills.
Let your child know it’s okay to grieve and feel how they’re feeling. Also let them know that those feelings too will pass.
“Our beloved dog passed away right before Easter. The 13-year-old and 10-year-old handled his passing well, and they understood it,” Amber Bowman, mother of three, explains. “For them we had them paint his favorite things on his tombstone.”
Creating a special place where children can go to think about their pet can be a creative way to cope with loss. Whether it is physically decorating a tombstone or painting memories with that pet on paper, little ones can learn about loss through creative expression while also remembering their pet in a positive light.
If creativity is not of your child’s interest, meeting with an actual therapist, or neutral party, may be incredibly beneficial. Allowing them to spill emotions to someone can lead to telling of heartfelt stories, bringing forth smiles and special memories.
Photo credit: Jennifer Aline Graham
Other Ways to Handle Pet Loss
- Create a “memorial” for the pet
- Write a story talking about a favorite memory
- Visit a local “Pet Cemetery”
- Purchase a stuffed animal similar to the pet
- Make other household pets feel extra loved
- Find a pet support group – or make one
Jennifer Aline is a coffee addict, mama of twins, and a passionate freelance writer and author. She writes for Moms.com on a regular basis and has had articles in publications such as the NY Daily News, NY Post, and In Good Health Newspaper. Aline received her Bachelor’s Degree in Child and Family Studies from Keuka College and worked in the Human Services field before her two little girls entered her life. Aline now focuses primarily on writing, teaching aerial arts classes in the evenings, and caring for her twin daughters – all while continuously chugging coffee, of course.
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