Helping Children Grieve

It can be particularly challenging to tell your child that your family pet has died. This may be your child’s very first experience of loss, and some parents feel daunted by the responsibility of delivering such difficult news to them. However, telling your child your pet has died does not have to be traumatic for you or your children. Here are several ideas to keep in mind when you tell your child your pet has died and in the days immediately after:

  1. Be honest and clear about the fact that your pet has died. Use words that you would use for an adult, like “[blank] has died” or “[blank] has passed away.” It is not recommended to tell your child a pet that has died has run away or gone to live elsewhere. This does not allow your child the opportunity to grieve your lost pet properly. It can be easy to forget in such harrowing moments that children are just small people; respect their right to hear the truth from you about the end of your beloved pet’s life.
  2. Don’t be afraid to share your own feelings about the death of your pet. It is okay to let your child know that you are sad about your family pet’s loss. In fact, sharing with your child how you mourn your pet can help model healthy grieving for their own process. Beginning with sincere expression of uncomfortable feelings like sadness or confusion lets your child know it’s okay to feel and express these things too.
  3. Give your child time and space to ask questions. Let your child set the pace and scope of the conversation around the loss of your pet. If they are ready to ask the question, then they are ready to know the answer. This will give your child a sense of agency and control in both their relationship with you as well as in their own grieving process. Answer their questions as straightforwardly and transparently as possible. This is also a great way to help your child sort through their own early feelings and ideas about death in general.
  4. Actively mourn your pet. If your child is willing, do something together to memorialize your pet. You could hold a funeral for your pet, scatter their ashes, write your pet a letter, or even write your pet an obituary here on PetHeaven.org. Sharing in these activities together can create additional space and comfort between you and your child as you grieve your family pet together.

However you decide to approach your child’s grieving process for your beloved pet, remember that you are doing the best you can and that it is okay to be honest with your child about the difficult feelings that come with death. Be kind to yourself and your child as you confront the rest of your lives together. Death is a natural part of life and so, too, is grieving.

Image courtesy of Annie Spratt

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