Pet loss is painful for anyone but it can be especially confusing and painful for children. Children have different levels of understanding regarding death and it is important to relay to children the reality of death in a straight forward but sensitive way. Hiding the death, or trying to shield the child from the reality of death is not a good way to help the child process the loss. Instead it is important to share with the child what occurred and the how to properly grieve the loss.
Losing a pet can sometimes be a child’s first experience with death. Whether simply a goldfish, it can provide an excellent learning opportunity. While more painful, losing a cat or dog, it can equally help the child understand the reality of life and death. The article, “Talking with Kids About the Loss of a Pet” by Hilary Lebow looks at ways to help children better cope with the death of a pet. She states,
“Each child processes grief differently. Though it’s painful, the loss of a pet can be an important opportunity to help children learn how to handle difficult experiences. A combination of talking about the death and closure activities can help you and your child heal.”
“Talking with Kids About the Loss of a Pet”. Hilary Lebow. May 18th, 2022. PsychCentral
To review the entire article, please click here
Understanding children’s perception of death
Before discussing pet loss with your child, it’s important to understand their perception of death. Children, especially young ones, may not fully understand the finality of death. They may not realize that their pet will never come back, or they may not understand that death is permanent. It’s important to be patient and understanding when talking to your child about death, and to use age-appropriate language that they can understand.
It’s also important to note that children may have different reactions to death depending on their age, personality, and previous experiences with loss. Some children may become sad or tearful, while others may be confused or angry. It’s important to be prepared for a range of emotions and reactions from your child, and to offer them support and understanding throughout the process.
Honesty is the best policy: How to talk to your child about pet loss
When explaining the death of a pet to your child, it’s important to be honest and straightforward. Use clear and simple language that your child can understand, and avoid using euphemisms such as “put to sleep” or “passed away”. While these phrases may seem gentler, they can also be confusing for children and may lead to misunderstandings about death. Sometimes saying a pet went away is not enough information because the child has a difficult time understanding why the pet cannot come back. This is why helping children realize that death is a permanent state is important in helping the child cope with the loss properly.
In many cases, the loss of a pet is the first experience of death for a child. Whether it is a simple fish or as difficult as losing the family dog, the event is a learning experience for the child.
It’s also important to give your child the opportunity to ask questions and express their feelings. Let them know that it’s okay to feel sad, angry, or confused, and that you are there to support them through the process. Encourage them to talk about their memories of the pet, and to share any thoughts or feelings they may be having.
Explaining death in an age-appropriate way
When discussing pet loss with your child, it’s important to use age-appropriate language and explanations. Younger children may not understand the concept of death, and may need simpler explanations such as “Fluffy’s body stopped working and she can’t come back”. Older children may have a better understanding of death, and may benefit from more detailed explanations about the body and how it works.
It’s also important to be prepared for questions that your child may have about death and dying. They may ask about what happens to the body after death, or about what death feels like. Be honest and open with your child, and answer their questions to the best of your ability.
Dealing with grief: Coping mechanisms for children
After the death of a pet, children may experience a range of emotions including sadness, anger, and guilt. It’s important to offer them support and understanding during this time, and to help them find healthy coping mechanisms to deal with their grief.
Encourage your child to express their feelings through writing, drawing, or talking to someone they trust. You may also want to consider seeking out support groups or counseling services for children who are struggling with grief.
The role of rituals and memorializing in the grieving process
Rituals and memorializing can play an important role in helping children cope with the loss of a pet. This can include creating a memorial or tribute to the pet, such as a photo album or a special piece of art. You may also want to consider holding a funeral or memorial service for the pet, where your child can say goodbye and share their memories with others.
Helping your child understand the cycle of life and death
One way to help your child cope with pet loss is to help them understand the cycle of life and death. Talk to them about how all living things have a beginning, middle, and end, and how death is a natural part of life. You may also want to talk to them about the concept of an afterlife, and about how their pet may still be with them in spirit.
Supporting your child through the grieving process
As your child works through their grief, it’s important to continue to offer them love and support. Encourage them to talk about their feelings and memories, and to express themselves in healthy ways. Offer them comfort and reassurance, and let them know that you are there for them no matter what.
When to seek professional help
While grief is a natural part of the grieving process, some children may struggle with it more than others. If your child is experiencing severe or prolonged grief, or if they are having difficulty functioning in their daily life, it may be time to seek professional help. A counselor or therapist can help your child work through their feelings and develop healthy coping mechanisms.
Those with certification specialties in Pet Loss Grief Support can play roles in helping one better cope with the loss of a pet.
Conclusion: Remembering and honoring the life of your beloved pet
Losing a pet can be a difficult experience for both children and adults. However, by being honest and supportive with your child, you can help them understand and cope with the experience. Remember to use age-appropriate language and explanations, encourage your child to express their feelings, and offer them comfort and support throughout the grieving process. And most importantly, remember to honor and remember the life of your beloved pet, and the joy and love they brought to your family.
Please also review AIHCP’s Pet Loss Grief Support Certification and see if it matches your academic and professional goals. The program is online and independent study and open to qualified professionals seeking a four year certification in Pet Loss Grief Support.
“How to cope with the death of your pet”. The Humane Society of the United States. Access here
“An Age-by-Age Guide to Explaining the Death of a Pet to Children”. Rachel Sokol. April 23rd, 2023. Family Education. Access here
“6 Family Friendly Ways to Help Kids Grieve After Pet Loss”. Meredith Gordon Resnick L.C.S.W. July 9th, 2015. Psychology Today. Access here
“When a Pet Dies, Helping Children Through the ‘Worst Day of Their Lives’”. Juli Fraga. June 8th, 2017. The New York Times. Access here