The death of a pet is a traumatic event that even most adults find difficult to handle. It can be a painfully raw experience, especially if it’s your child’s first encounter with death. Feelings of loss, sadness, confusion, and even, in part, guilt and anger can all throw into the mix.
Because of the death’s deeply emotional and psychological impact, how parents help their kids through this difficult time is crucial for the children’s developmental unfolding.
But how do you model a healthy way of grieving while dealing with your own feelings of loss?
According to a 2011 survey, 81 percent of Americans consider their dogs to be equal members of the family. The dogs’ zest for life and unparalleled loyalty excellently guard the human companions’ mental fortitude.
That is why for most families, the death of a pet is tantamount to the death of a family member. But even if the loss is felt by everyone, it’s not safe to assume that your child also feels the same way about the experience.
Some children may be open and honest about what they feel. Others may think twice about sharing their grief for fear that it will be frowned upon.
As parents, it’s best not to sway your kids into feeling one way. Telling them to be strong may, for instance, feel like an invalidation of their heartbreak. Instead, talk to them about your own sadness. This will open the line of communication and show them that being transparent about sorrow is okay, regardless of the cause.
Your children have their own emotional and intellectual filters that may not mirror your own. You may be surprised by how much they understand about the situation. If there are certain misunderstandings, you will be there to give them resolve and clarity.
Don’t overwhelm them
The fact that your child looks up to you as their safety net is another important thing to remember. Each person has their own ways of coping with stress. But being ballistic and out of control is not an option when you are trying to help a child cope with the death of a pet.
Outrageous displays of emotion may be justifiable at times, but when you’re dealing with grief with your child, the reaction can frighten, overwhelm, or even hamper their healing process.
Using proper language can help a child cope with the death of a pet
When explaining something to a child, most people resort to euphemisms or oversimplified metaphors because they think the child is too young to learn the truth. However, in the context of death (and as in most cases), talking about the death of a pet honestly and with age appropriate language is always the best course of action.
Refrain from sugarcoating the facts with phrases like “God has taken them” or “They are in heaven” or “They’ve been put to sleep.” Your child’s wealthy imagination may just get in the way of them accepting the reality that their pet is not coming back. After all, these sorts of explanations will most likely just open a line of questioning that will dig you in too deep with the excuses. Your child will naturally ask questions so keep your answers simple and don’t expound more than necessary.
Still, it’s important that you make them feel that it’s safe to ask anyway. Keeping the communication freeway open permits you to calmly assure them that your pet’s death or sudden disappearance is in no way their fault.
Heal through action
Curating tangible actions that allow your child to face reality and move on is an important step to healing. A funeral or pet cremation does not serve solely as an honor to the deceased pet. It’s also an opportunity for the bereaved members of the family to contemplate the significance of the event and bring about closure.
Ask your child how they want to memorialise their pets. Will they want them to be cremated or buried? How will they want the funeral to happen? By allowing them to weigh on these decisions firsthand, you’re giving your kids the power to come to terms with their own emotions, act on them, and attain acceptance.
By modeling a healthy way of grieving, you show your child that sadness, bereavement, and all the unpleasant emotions that come with loss are natural and healthy reactions to the death of a loved one.
Emma Nolan is a blogger, writer, and dog parent to three adorable black labradoodles. She likes strolling outdoors with her lovable fur babies when not writing about them. She writes about pet care, health, and lifestyle at Pawstruck.
*PIN ME *