Death is something that hits hard for all of us, but for children, with little experience of loss, it can be especially difficult. Their first experience of death often comes from the loss of a family pet, be that the dog they have created a bond with or the goldfish that used to merrily swim around in the tank. When they are no longer there, you are faced with that difficult question. What should you say to your child? And if you do tell them the truth – that the pet has died and not gone on an extended holiday – how do you help your child cope with their grief? We have some suggestions for you here, which should help your little ones through this difficult time, as well as giving you a sense of peace and solace as well.
Spend time with your child
Your child will be full of questions – how/when/why did my pet die – so you must be prepared to answer them. You should also allow them time to express their grief, so give them plenty of room to talk and display their emotions. This will be a difficult time, but your support and companionship will be a great solace to them as they try and come to terms with what has happened.
Read helpful books
While we advised you to talk to your child about what has happened, admittedly, it is sometimes difficult to find the right words to say. Thankfully, there are storybooks available to help your child cope during this difficult time. These books are a great resource to help them manage difficult emotions and address the grieving process in very simple and child-relatable ways. Not only will your child find these books helpful, but you will too when it comes to answering those difficult questions.
Make a keepsake
Your child will never forget the pet they have lost, but in the short-term, a keepsake such as a scrapbook or a memory book will help your child cope with their grief. This is something for them to turn to when they want to keep special memories alive, and it is also a great tool for you to use as a talking point to help them when they are struggling.
Hold a funeral ceremony
A funeral is a time for you all to say goodbye and express your grief. While undoubtedly a sad time, it can also be a place where you share happy memories of the pet you have lost. Before the ceremony takes place, be that in your back garden or a dedicated pet cemetery, give your child some control over the planning. Have a look at headstones with them and ask your child what words should be inscribed on the stone. Then help them choose photographs that could be placed on the burial site, and help them put together a speech, story or a poem that may be used to commemorate the pet in question. This is important to give your child a sense of control at a time when they may feel helpless when dealing with this sudden loss in their life. The ceremony itself should offer hope, with thanksgiving for the happy times the pet had within the family, as well as a time for grief to be expressed in a healthy way.
Losing a family pet is difficult, but it’s also a learning opportunity. Your child will learn to express and deal with their sad feelings and will grow from their grief. We hope our suggestions helped, but if you have any ideas of your own, be sure to let us know.