Helping Children to Deal with the Death of a Pet

The death of a pet is incredibly difficult to deal with at any age. But for children in particular, this can often be their first experience of bereavement and can be an incredibly tough time. So just how do you help children through their grief?

The loss of a beloved pet is difficult at any age. But it will happen to a lot of us at some point. According to recent bereavement statistics, 46% of adults have experienced the death of a pet. But processing these difficult situations is made more complicated when you have children.

For many children, the loss of a pet will be their first experience of death. So how do you help them to process and deal with it?

Talking Openly and Using Direct Language

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It’s important to be very honest with children about what happened. And sometimes, in trying to sugarcoat sad events with softer language, we end up making things more confusing.

So the use of direct language like “died,” is important for children of all ages.

How much explaining you’ll have to do will depend upon the age of a child. Younger children may need help understanding what “died” actually means, while older children are likely to already be aware of the permanence and meaning of death.

Explain why it happened, the fact that nobody could have done anything (and certainly there is nothing the child could have done to stop this) and stick to facts.

Explain that it’s OK to be sad

It’s important that your child knows that this is a very sad event and that feeling sad about it is absolutely ok. Explain that you feel sad about it too and that it’s normal for people to feel sad when something like this happens.

Be patient

It may take children a while to process the situation. Sometimes they may want to talk to you. Sometimes they may prefer not to. It’s important to know you are there for them and that, when they’re ready, it’s healthy to share their feelings. However, not all children will be ready to talk quickly. It may take your child months to fully process.

Patience is critical.

Suggest a creative outlet

A fascinating 2020 study suggested that “art therapy” can help children who are grieving and help them to express emotion and feelings. “Art therapy” will take different forms depending on the age of the child. But things like drawing, writing poetry, making a scrap book or writing stories about their pet (or other things) might help them to process how they are feeling and express it.

Involve your child in what happens next to your pet

Will the pet be cremated? And if so where should the ashes go? Or perhaps your pet will be buried. If your child is old enough, getting their opinion on what next could help.

Some children may benefit from a small ceremony and a burial for their pet somewhere close to home where they can visit. Some children may like to plant a tree or release a balloon. Choose an age appropriate way to commemorate your pet and involve children who are old enough. 

When is the right time for a new pet?

It depends, of course. But one thing that is really important is that the child knows the new pet is not a replacement for the old pet and that you won’t ever forget all the wonderful memories made with the pet who died.

But sometimes, making your home available to invite a new furry member of the family in the right time is helpful.

With children who are old enough, involve them in the decision.

There is no perfect way to handle the death of a pet and there’s no absolute right way to help your children through it either. The most important thing is patience, open and direct communication and encouraging them to share their feelings.