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Helping Your Child Deal with the Loss of a Pet

For a child, the loss of a pet can be an emotionally painful, traumatic life experience.  It is often their first encounter with death.  While the age of the child will influence whether or not they truly understand the circumstances, it will be a sad and frightening time for most.

Children will surely express a plethora of feelings in the days, weeks and months following their pets’ death.  Initially, some children may choose to ignore the situation or even deny the pets’ death.  But soon they will find themselves experiencing emotions ranging from sadness and fear to anger that their beloved friend is no longer around.

Family Expression
It’s important to allow kids to fully express their grief and it’s beneficial for them to see adult family members expressing themselves too.  Acknowledgement and support are important components of the grieving process- even for children. Working through emotions as a family can assist in the healing process and provide a sense of comfort to the younger members.

While death and the questions children ask about it may be awkward, it’s necessary to spend time discussing them.  Try to answer their inquiries in honest, yet simple answers.  Providing too much detail to younger children may make matters more difficult for them. 

Safety and Security
Reassurance of their own well-being is crucial for children during this time.  Younger children may begin to fear the loss of other family members in the wake of the pets’ death.  Parental assurance of the child’s safety can help put him or her at ease.

Older children may need more in depth exploration of their feelings in order to work through the loss.  In addition to much discussion, they may find it helpful to read how other kids dealt with a similar loss.  Encourage your child to express his or her feelings in a journal or to write a poem for the pet.

Memorializing the Pet
Be sure to include children in activities to memorialize the lost pet.  Ask young children to draw a picture of their pet, or help choose a favorite photo.   Older children may be able to compose a poem to their pet, or to write about a favorite memory.  

Children can be included in most of the suggestions listed in “Creating a Memorial to Your Pet”.   Working together as a family to memorialize your pet will help to bring closure and to acknowledge the bond that was shared.