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Although we don’t like to think about it, there may come a time when you have to help your child cope with the loss of a pet. Are you there now? This is the tool you need in either case.
When a pet dies, it is usually a monumental event in the life of a family whether it was something that was anticipated or something that was sudden. Pets are additional members of our family. They are constant companions, listening ears who are always there, sounding boards in times of stress, and overflowing with unconditional love and acceptance.
When you have at least one child who also loves a pet who dies, it becomes even more difficult for us as adults to handle the new road ahead. If this is the first loss your child has experienced, you face an even bigger challenge as a parent in most cases.
Following are some things that I and my kids have found helpful during the loss of a pet.
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- Encourage your child to talk about it, but don’t push. It is often not healthy to hold their feelings and fears surrounding this event inside, but offer them time to form their thoughts and feelings into words, too.
- When they talk, don’t minimize or try to rationalize their feelings too much. Time will help heal things a bit, and in time you can talk more rationally about these things, too. Don’t rush trying to influence how they are to process this event emotionally.
- Give them a picture of the pet in a frame for their room, maybe even a picture of them with their pet.
- Along the same lines, you can put together a quick picture book of various pictures with the pet. My daughter who was having a particularly difficult time appreciated having both a framed picture and a collection of pictures in a book.
- Allow them to have a token of something that reminds them of the pet. Maybe it was the pet’s blanket or a stuffed animal or toy, but allow your child or children to choose a tangible item.
- Buy your child a stuffed animal that represents the pet. If they lost their dog, buy them a dog. Even better, let them pick out the stuffed dog.
- Have someone send them a sympathy card in the mail. Our vet does this, which is nice, but if this is not the case for you, have a friend or grandparent send a card acknowledging their loss. My daughter still has hers and it has been almost seven years.
- Keep the lines of communication open. Allow them to talk about it months or years down the line if they desire.
- Encourage them to write a goodbye letter or color a goodbye picture to their pet. If your pet was buried, you can even bury it nearby.
- Do something special with them, something out of the ordinary. It doesn’t have to be big, just make sure they know that you are wanting to spend some time with them to remind them that they still have plenty of people who love them and who are here for them.
Saying goodbye to a pet is never easy, and often our grief as adults takes a backseat to the grief our children feel. I personally think it is ok for our kids to see that we grieve, too, but if your grief is excessive, you may need to shield some of it from them.
While there is no one size fits all, simple solution to helping your child cope, using some of the above ideas has greatly helped in our family when we have said goodbye to a beloved pet.
Have you had to deal with this in your family? What would you add?