Pets benefit children in a variety of ways, including providing friendship and social interaction. As such, when a child’s pet passes away, the youngster can feel like they’ve lost their closest companion. Clinical Social Worker and writer Meredith Resnick advises that, when a much-loved pet passes, it’s crucial parents ask themselves whether “the child is processing the grief and is the parent able to help the child mediate the feelings in a way the child needs”. With this in mind, finding ways to keep your child’s pet’s memory alive is crucial.
Produce a scrapbook
Researcher Joshua J. Russell, Ph.D., of Canisius College in Buffalo, New York, says that children are capable of distinguishing between a ‘good death’ and a ‘bad death’. During one-to-one interviews with children who had lost a pet, he found that the children whose pets had died in bad circumstances, such as in a road accident, were more likely to be traumatised. The traumatic feelings extended for two years later than children whose pet’s had died in more positive circumstances, such as via natural causes.
Creating a scrapbook with your child to document your deceased pet’s life is an effective way to help your child come to terms with their pet’s death; regardless of the circumstances surrounding it. Browsing through photos and discussing happy times that you and your child had with his or her pet puts emphasis on happy memories. This process also concludes your pet’s story while providing a physical and positive reminder of their life to look back on. This coping mechanism is backed by research from Dr. Pennebaker. Which revealed that when young people expressed their emotions on paper, they were less likely to utilize health care services. Therefore, implying that it’s healthier to document a dead pet’s life than not to.
Russell’s interviews with bereaved children revealed that a sizeable number of them wanted “to go to their room and feel sad and deal with it on their own terms.” The Child Mind Institute advises that it’s okay for young children to spend time alone while grieving. Children tend to “go in and out of grieving mode”. It is OK to leave older children alone, if that is what they want. They just need to know that they can come to you at any time. When your child wants some alone time, it can be beneficial for them to have an object which reminds them of their pet. After your pet is cremated, his or her ashes can be used to create pet memorial. For example, CPC offer a range of picture frames and ash jewellery suitable as gifts for your child.
Such a personalized piece can provide comfort to a child who wants to ensure they never forget their pet. Advice from Elizabeth Postle, RN, HV of Grief and Sympathy concerning younger children. When helping children to cherish memories of their pet, age appropriate keepsakes are more suitable. “Perhaps a photo for their room may be more appropriate. Just in case they lose a piece of jewellery depending on their age,” she says.
Start your own rituals
After a pet passes away, it’s common for rituals such as scattering the ashes and planting a tree to take place. When contacted about whether rituals are useful for bereaved children, Joshua Russell suggests that “Ideas for remembering are good. Many children express that they found it meaningful to engage in family or cultural rituals around grief… planting a tree, scattering ashes, making a memorial, laying flowers at a grave, even reading scriptures in religious families.” Along with adopting traditional rituals, it can be a good idea to start non-traditional rituals. These rituals help to keep your pet’s memory alive and to support your child long after their pet has been cremated too.
Counsellor Jodi Aman actively encourages rituals in families. They bring people together and remind us to appreciate things. With this in mind, rituals to adopt could include you and your child sharing a happy memory. Sharing can take place anytime, perhaps while going about day to day chores. For example, if there is a younger sibling in the house, you could use the time spent preparing their bottles for feeding to talk about a great day out that you all had with your pet. Alternatively, as it can take some time to dry your baby’s bottles safely using an airing rack, you could use this time to draw pictures of your pet in happy times together. Another ritual to consider introducing is regularly going to the place where your pet’s ashes were scattered. Try leaving some of his of her favourite food or treats there. Alternatively, you could put a pet memorial plaque up in a special location.
Create an online pet tribute together
Research published by Harvard Medical School, highlights how writing down your grief can have long-term benefits. Despite it triggering sad emotions initially.
Screenwriter Stephanie Ericsson states that. “Writing letters is a way that we can express a part of ourselves that we can’t seem to say out loud.”
Elizabeth Postle backs this up. She states that “Perhaps asking the child to write a story or draw a picture about what they remember about the pet. Rather than specifying it should be about their feelings.”
It is a gentler way to encourage them to explore how they feel. It can, therefore, be particularly beneficial for your child to compile a written tribute to their pet. Together you can express your love, sorrow, and memories together. You then have the option to keep your tribute among your own family, to post it online. Alternatively, to share it in a communal book of remembrance at the crematorium that looked after your pet.
Introduce a new pet
Opting to bring a new pet into your family following the death of another one can be tricky. The research from Canisius College yielded mixed reactions to this. Some children stating that it was wrong to get a new pet immediately after the death of one. Whereas, others stated that they only felt better when a new pet was introduced. When asked about the bereaved children he’s come across, Russell noted that many of the children he speaks to “are quite mature about those types of things”. They recognise, that when a new pet is eventually introduced that “the relationship will be different and the pet will be different and unique.”
While your child might be reluctant to ‘replace’ their deceased pet with a new one. It can help your child to process their loss and to keep their previous pet’s memory alive. For example, in the case of a dog, walking the dog around the same park. Other activities like gifting the new dog a toy belonging to the deceased dog will bring back precious memories. It may encourage your child to speak out about their loss.
There’s no need for a child’s happy memories of their pet to stop once they’ve been cremated. Research shows that it can be much more beneficial for a child to express their feelings. You can encourage children to share the memories of their pet in a variety of happy ways. Especially in the weeks, months, and even in the years following their death. Encouraging children to share their memories will reassure that they will always remember their pet.
Amy Fletcher is a freelance writer and researcher who has written for multiple pet-based websites in the past. Having spent her life surrounded by pets, Amy has a keen interest in animal welfare. When she’s not writing, she enjoys long walks with her daughter and two dogs.
Keeping your pet's memory alive
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