Helping children cope with the loss of a pet

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Pets are an amazing contribution to a happy family life. They offer companionship and unconditional love, and can teach children valuable lessons about compassion, responsibility, and caretaking. Sadly, the lives of pets are short, and children may have to face a pet’s passing.

Guiding a child through this difficult time is a challenge for parents, especially since they are also dealing with the animal’s death. Here are some tips for helping children cope with the loss of a pet.

Talk about it

It is important to acknowledge and talk about the feelings around pet loss. For many children, this is their first experience with death. They may be confused and afraid in addition to feeling sadness. Parents can let their children know their feelings are okay, and that it helps to talk about whatever feelings they are experiencing. Also, when parents express their own grief, their children will know they are not alone, and that their feelings are normal.

Discussing death in an age-appropriate way is essential when a pet passes. The ability to truly grasp what death is varies by age, so simple and honest statements are best. It is also advisable to assure a child that he or she is not responsible for the pet’s death, no matter what the age. For parents struggling to find the right words, there are wonderful books for children that can be an invaluable resource after pet loss.

If grief becomes too much for a child, a parent can consider the help of a professional. Parents can watch for signs that their child is not adjusting to a pet’s death. These signs include a drop in grades, a change in the child’s appetite, or loss of interest in normal activities. Children can definitely suffer from depression, and parents need to be ready to address it by seeking help.

Honor and remember the pet

There are as many ways to grieve, as there are people. A child who loses a pet may benefit from the rituals of a funeral and burial. At a funeral, the child can express feelings and say good-bye. Burying the pet in a special place will give the child a chance to make memorial visits.

There are plenty of professional services available that provide a dignified burial services for pets. In North Carolina, pet burial and cremation are available to those that are grieving the loss of a beloved pet.

Finding ways to honor and remember the pet can be very healing for children. Parents can plant a tree in the pet’s memory or create a scrapbook of photos for the child to look through. Many artists specialize in memorializing pets through paintings, and this can be a healing gift during a child’s grieving process.

Parents have many responsibilities as they nurture and guide their children to adulthood. An important part of that is helping their children adjust to a beloved pet’s death. Awareness and sensitivity to their child’s experiences will help any parent in this challenging task.