Losing a pet is hard for anyone but it can be particularly tough on children or young people who have formed strong bonds with their cat or dog. We have written this guide on how to help your child if you lose a pet.
A child will often view their cat or dog as their best friend. Many children will talk to their pet about emotions they feel and any worries or concerns they might have. When a pet dies it may be a child’s first experience of losing someone or something that is close to them. The way in that they come to terms with this loss can shape how they approach further deaths as they grow older.
When a child realises that there friend has gone forever they may display feelings of denial or disbelief whilst feeling lonely, numb and/or sad. This is not uncommon and it is important to note that these human feelings are only natural. A child may also experiences emotions of anger or guilt if they, for some reason, believe that something they said or did contributed to their pet’s death.
These feelings can be intensified if the pet that has passed away was the child’s first pet or there have been other losses in the child’s life that will bring up all kinds of feelings again.
Things to be Mindful of When Helping a Child Grieve
- It is important to remember that children will suffer from the same emotions as adults. Don’t be afraid to share your own feelings and include your child when making decisions about your pet.
- Encourage the child to express themselves through any means that will help them come to terms with their loss; art forms such writing or drawing can be brilliant for this.
- When talking about your pet’s death with your child try to be as clear as possible. Whilst it is only natural to want to protect your child, it is best to be clear so that they understand and learn about life and death; try not to use phrases like ‘put to sleep’ or ‘gone missing’.
- If your child has been having other difficulties in their life then losing their pet could be one step too far, be prepared to seek professional help if it is all getting too much for them.
- Make sure to inform your child’s teacher if they are extremely upset.
Age of Your Child and Their Concept of Death
A child’s concept of death will largely depend on their age. Children up to two years of age will generally not have much of an idea about what death means. When a pet dies they may notice that the pet is no longer present and can possibly pickup on the rest of the family’s grief. There are many questions that a child will have in regards to death of a pet such as where do they go andwhat happens when your pet is buried/cremated. If your child is in that tough transition period of adolescence then they may have high emotions but not be so up for talking about them. If this is the case, don’t push too hard but let them talk to you in their own time.
Choosing which way to help your child to say goodbye is very important. It will be up to you whether you want to bury or cremate your pet but do not fret too much about which you choose, there is no wrong or right way but be mindful to plan how your child will be involved.
There are actually quite a few ways for you to involve your child if you are planning to bury your deceased pet. It can be a great idea to let them choose the burial spot and you can also encourage them to decorate the spot with flowers, or even bulbs so that they can relate to the amount of time the pet has been gone, as time goes on the flowers or plants will grow, giving the child some solace. They can also help to make a gravestone or some kind of memorial, writing a message that will help them to grieve and accept. A ceremony can also help with closure in the child’s mind.
If you decide to go down the route of cremating your pet then you can do one of two things to help your child. The first is to keep the ashes in a casket or urn in a place in the home where your child can see it every day. If your pet that recently died was a dog, then scattering the ashes on their favourite walk or outdoors area can be a great way for a child to say goodbye. You can explain that the dog will be becoming part of the earth again; this can also help to teach them about the cycle of life.
Getting Another Pet
The key to introducing another pet to your household is timing, try to remember that getting another pet straight away will not stop any of the sad emotions that your child is feeling. If you do get a new pet make sure that your child knows that the new pet isn’t a replacement for the pet that has passed away. Wait until you think that your child is ready and then talk to them about the idea of bringing a new pet home.