Just For Kids
Suggestions for Kids Regarding Pet Loss
Sometimes the loss of a pet is the first experience a child has with death. But it does not have to be a scary time for them. There are numerous sources of information and support. Our goal at East Lawn is to help you find the resources you need to help the children in your life cope with this situation.
According to the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement, bereavement in children is sometimes trivialized or given inadequate attention. Adults may presume that it is advisable to shelter children from the truth as it may be upsetting, but this is probably not the best approach. The death of a child’s beloved pet matters a great deal in his or her young life. How this is handled now will remain with the child forever.
For most kids, pets are more than just animals - they are members of the family and the best of friends. Children naturally develop strong attachments to animals and although children experience grief differently than adults, they certainly do grieve. They will need support and guidance to understand their loss, to mourn, and to find ways to remember and memorialize their deceased pet.
We recommend you visit several websites to gain greater understanding of how to handle this situation in your family. One such website is the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry which offers this advice: Children’s reactions to the death of a pet will depend upon their age and developmental level. Generally, it is not until 9 years of age that children fully understand that death is permanent and final.
One of the most difficult parts about losing a pet may be breaking the bad news to kids. Try to do so one-on-one in a place where they feel safe and comfortable and won’t be easily distracted. Very young children should be told that when a pet dies, it stops moving, it’s body no longer works, it doesn’t see or hear anymore, and won’t wake up again. They may need to have this explanation repeated several times.
Some helpful information from http://kidshealth.org suggests that if your pet is very old or has a lingering illness, consider talking to kids before the death occurs. If you have to euthanize your pet, you may want to explain that:
- The veterinarian has done everything they can
- Your pet would never get better
- This is the kindest way to take the pet’s pain away
- The pet will die peacefully, without feeling hurt or scared
If you do have to euthanize your pet, be careful about saying the animal went “to sleep” or “got put to sleep.” Young kids tend to interpret events literally, so this can conjure up scary misconceptions about sleep or surgery or anesthesia.
You can help your child cope in a variety of ways. First, help them understand that it’s natural to feel lots of different emotions including anger, sadness, frustration, guilt or loneliness. It is okay not to want to talk about those feelings at first, but always be ready when they are ready to talk.
To help kids move on and heal after the shock has faded, encourage them to find special ways to remember their pet. You might have a ceremony to bury your pet and share memories of the fun times you had together. If you opt for cremation, choose a special place in your home where the urn can be displayed and surround it with photographs of the pet.
Encourage kids to continue to talk about their pet, often and with love. Let your child know that while the pain will eventually lessen and go away, the happy memories of the pet will always remain. If and when the time is right, you might consider adopting a new pet - not as a replacement, but as a way to welcome another animal friend into your family.