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When a Child Loses a Pet
Loss of a pet can be extremely difficult for a child to understand. Especially in some cases this may be their first brush with loss. It is a very delicate line and no easy task. Not only is the adult extremely sad in this case but they also must try to explain the complexity of loss.
Children often derive a deeply special relationship with their pets, which include understanding, responsibility, special interactions and communications. Most importantly trust.
For many children their pet was their first best friend, or at least their truest friend. One they could tell secrets to and feel completely safe. One they could play imaginary games, one who they could cry too when no one else seemed to understand. In the child’s heart their pet was their best ally against the world. With this in mind the loss of a pet to a child can be devastating.
Communication is key. It is important to realize that this pet was possibly much more than just a pet to this child. Many people other than the parents of this child may not comprehend that and not realize this pet was much more than “just a pet”. To make matters even a little more difficult, it’s likely that this pet loss possibly is the first encounter with death, so the parent must soothe the child’s grief over the disappearance of a friend, but also try to explain the concept of death.
Children learn and pick up information from all different sources. Don’t assume that they understand, they receive input from a wide range of sources over which you don not have complete control. It’s difficult to know what may have been filtered through your child’s own experiences and what their actual interpretation of death actually is.
By discussing with your child openly and honestly, you will discover how much they understand whether they understand death far better than you anticipated or that you can help them weed through misconceptions.
Children of all ages are grief stricken when a pet is lost. Age and personality of the child certainly has an effect. It all depends on the relationship the pet and child shared. A soft cuddly plaything to a toddler, a confidante to an older child. The more experiences the child shares the deeper the tie, the pet becomes a distinct personality to a child, one perceived as capable of love and understanding. The child’s pet a true companion.
Imagination is a large part of a young child’s life. A helpful tool to help children cope with pet loss, is to ask the child after the loss, where they think their pet is now, encourage them to describe a setting that they would want their pet to be happy in, including other animals and people that may be there and what their pet does for fun. This will help them explore the thought that their pet is ok and in a safe happy place. This exercise is to help ease their fear.
Honesty is essential with children. Let them know how sad you are also, grieve with them.
Teenagers and young adults may not share their feelings as easily when it comes to pet loss. They may feel it silly to show any emotion towards a pet, even though deep down this may have been one of their strongest companions. Visualization techniques also work in this case. Perhaps as the parent or ask a close friend, to bring up where you hope the pet is now and let the teen jump in and help describe, this way they will lose some of their awkward feelings towards grieving.
Be open and listen to your child’s feelings and nurture. They need to know that emotions over a pet are very natural and necessary. Many of your child’s peers may not understand this loss, and your child may feel very vulnerable. Listening and sharing will help you both.
You can also share the positive attributes with your teenager of what that pet has brought into your lives. Honoring your pet’s memory discussing the endearing qualities of your pet. Share stories of how your pet was wonderful listener, a wonderful greeter and a loving friend.
As with adults, sharing positive memories is a wonderful way to pay tribute to your pet. Have your young child draw a photo or make a card. Share stories with relatives. Give your teenager a journal to write special memories in. Frame the child’s favorite photos or make a photo book. Place the pet’s collar in a special spot. So many ways to share wonderful reminders of time spent with your pet. Creating such a tribute can help you cope with the grief and will provide comfort in years to come for all members of the family.
Following are some wonderful and very helpful websites to help you through the grief of losing your beloved friend.
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Hello John and Mary,
I received Rowdy's red granite grave marker yesterday morning and it is perfect in every respect. Rowdy was 14 years old and his sister Sweetie (from the same litter) is not in the best of health; therefore, sooner or later (hopefully later) I will need another red granite grave marker for her.