Helping Children When A Pet Dies
10 Tips for parents
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Helping Children When A Pet Dies
I lost 3 dogs this year. My poor little family has had the worst of luck. We love our dogs and take good care of our animals. Still, no one could have predicted that our 15-year-old shih tzu/poodle would have died just days after our sick yorkie died, and 5 months later, our sweet little Pomeranian died too.
Needless to say, my kids were devastated. These animals were our family members. We were utterly heartbroken, yet it was my responsibility to help my children grieve, understand what happened, and heal from the pain.
Hello, my name is Kristina Campos. I am the founder of the Impactful Parent. Every week I give you parenting videos that can help you in your parenting journey. If you have a particular topic or parenting question about your school-aged child that you would like me to address, please submit it at [email protected] or by messaging me on social media. All submissions are kept anonymous.
Today, I will talk to you about what to do when a pet dies. I have 10 tips for parents so that you know what to do and what to say, plus stick around until the end, I even got suggestions for making the loss a little more bearable for everyone in the family. Let’s get started!
The death of a pet can be a painful experience for anyone, but it’s especially difficult for children. When you’re a kid, and your pet dies, you may feel like the world has ended. If your child is grieving the loss of a beloved animal, here are 10 suggestions for how you can help them through it:
- Stay calm. Your child will likely be upset and confused, so try not to get too upset or panicked yourself.
- Don’t sugarcoat things. Children need to know that their pets are gone forever, and they need to talk about the loss openly and honestly with you. At the same time, be age-appropriate, answer their questions honestly, and try not to overshare too much information (e.g., don’t go into detail about how their pet died).
- Ask questions. Help them identify their feelings by asking questions like “What other emotions do you have?” or “How do you feel inside?” You can also ask questions like “What was your favorite thing about Fido?” This will help you understand your child’s feelings better and give them an outlet for expressing them. Keep communication open between yourself and your child throughout this process; don’t get frustrated if they’re upset or need some time alone afterward.
- Listen! Don’t interrupt or try to jump in with advice—listen and let them talk through their feelings. Be prepared for questions about why the pet died and what happens after death (if you don’t have answers). You may want to look into books about death or dying with your child beforehand to prepare you for these questions!
- Encourage children to express their emotions through words and actions, like drawing pictures or writing letters to Fido. This will help them process what happened in a healthy way and eventually move on from their grief.
- Be prepared for any emotions that arise now and within the next few weeks. Sometimes kids can’t “feel” right away and won’t start processing their thoughts and feelings until later. Even if your child is withdrawn, acting out, irritable, and angry 2 weeks later- it may still be unprocessed sadness coming to the surface. Be patient and recognize that this may be the cause.
- Allow your child to grieve in their own way. Each child will mourn differently, so let them find their own path through this process—and don’t force them into anything they don’t want to do! This is an excellent opportunity for parents to teach coping strategies. Please help your child develop healthy coping strategies that work for them. This could include deep breathing, mindfulness, exercise, or spending time in nature. It’s good to make suggestions for processing emotions productively. Suggest things like,
- Creative outlets like drawing, painting, and journaling
- Exercise and get outside in nature
- Break rooms where people can break household items intentionally for anger release.
- Talking about their feelings with others
- For more ideas, check out my free PDF called 20 Ways To Cope https://theimpactfulparent.com/20waystocope
- Let them know that they don’t need to be strong always and don’t have to be sad alone. Say, “I know this is sad, but we will get through it together.”
- Give your child an opportunity to have closure. This is usually done with a mini funeral ceremony of some kind. However, if you’re not the funeral type, consider allowing your child to say goodbye to the pet in a letter or video.
- Model healthy emotional expression. Children learn by example, so model healthy emotional expression by sharing your own feelings and how you cope with them.
Remember that everyone grieves differently, so don’t rush your child through mourning over the loss of their pet by saying things like, “It’s okay, sweetie, let’s go play with your toys now.” Instead, give them time and space to express themselves in whatever way feels best for them, whether that means crying uncontrollably or laughing hysterically from time to time throughout the day.
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But until next time, you got this, parents. I am just here to help.
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