Losing a beloved pet changes your family forever. As a parent, you naturally want to shield your child from the pain of grief, but this can do more harm than good. Although difficult to discuss, death is an inevitable part of life, and your children need to learn that with your support and guidance.
These tips can help you teach your children how to cope with the death of a pet, and they may help you come to terms with the loss, too.
Be Honest About What Happened
While being age-appropriate, make sure you let your children know that their pet has died. Do not lie to them and say that it has gone to live somewhere else or has run away. Children can be more hurt by the fact their pet left without them than hearing it has passed away.
Losing a family pet is typically most children’s introduction to the concept of death and loss. It’s okay to use words like “death” or “dying” if your child is old enough to ask. In cases of euthanasia, avoid saying that the vet will put your pet “to sleep” as children tend to take things literally. Calmly explain to them that your pet will first be given a shot so they can be comfortable, and then they’ll be given a special shot so their heart stops beating.
Lean Into Your Emotions
Learning how to deal with the loss of a pet is an important experience that can help children prepare for future losses in their lifetime. Make sure that you normalize grief in your household during periods of mourning; one of the most powerful things you can do as a parent is to teach your kids that it’s okay to be sad.
You may want to draw upon your faith and tell your children that their pet has gone to Heaven or the afterlife. It’s also okay to tell them that you don’t know. You can still comfort them without having all the answers.
Don’t Replace the Pet Right Away
Give yourself and your family time to mourn. Rather than immediately getting a new cat or dog, which can feel like replacing your old one, focus on the good times you had together with your last pet. Talk about them often, and refer to them by name. Encourage your children to share their favorite memories, and when the time is right, you can discuss adding another pet to your family.
Let Them Say Goodbye
Children need a sense of closure from death just like adults. If their pet died before they could say goodbye, hold a small ritual for them to honor their pet’s life. You may decide to create a photo album, draw a picture of the late pet or hold a small memorial service as a family where you share memories or scatter your pet’s ashes. You can also try to make the memorial more positive by planting a tree or flowers together in your pet’s honor.
No matter how old you are, losing a pet isn’t easy. This loss may be difficult, but it can also be an opportunity for you to support each other and draw closer as a family.