Comforting a Child Who Lost Their Pet

Comfort in Grief

Many children feel like their pets are members of the family.  So when a pet dies, it can be a tragic loss for them that might hurt far worse than a parent could imagine.  Since parents know that their child might suffer, many try to protect them by trying to tell them something that might not be exactly true about what has become of their beloved pet.

The reason that so many parents struggle with talking to their child about the death of a pet is that they are uncomfortable talking to their child about death.  This means that they are not going to know what to say or what to do.


A Look at the Child’s Thoughts

Children have a different way of thinking.  Younger children can not fully comprehend that death is forever.  Children between the ages of three and five sometimes think that death could be reversed.  Magical thinking and wild imaginations can sometimes lead to a child thinking that a pet is going to come back to life even after they have been dead for some time.

Between the ages of six and eight a child is going to realize that death is permanent.  However they are unable to fathom that they could died.  They will believe that this is only something that can happen to other people.  If a child is between the ages of nine and eleven they will understand that death is something that they can not change.  However, they might believe that death is something that they could have prevented.  Children in these age groups tend to blame themselves for a pet’s death and will try to think about what the outcome could have been had they only done something different.


How to Explain the Death of a Pet to a Child

When a pet dies, it can be hard for parents to know just what they should be saying to their child.  Parents should use direct terms like “died” or “death” rather than trying to make it sound nicer for their children.  However this does not mean that they have to tell their children everything.  In fact they should decide ahead of time what they will tell children and avoid having to offer them additional information.

If a pet is being put to sleep each child should be considered fully.  If the child is a stable child that knows about and understands death then they could be present.  It would require a lot of discussion and explaining so that the child knows that once the pet goes to sleep he will never be waking up again.  If the child is not able to understand or if the parent feels that this would be too hurtful for the child then it is best for them to say their good byes before the pet goes to the vet.

Each child will have a different reaction just like adults do. Not all adults grieve on the surface and show their emotions.  If a child does not seem to be grieving then the parent can sit down and talk with with the about things and let them know that it is okay to be sad.  Ask the child why they are not grieving and in some cases it might be surprising as to what they say.


Getting Help with the Grieving Process

Parents can do many different things when their child is going through the grief process.  One great thing to do is to find a way to keep the pet’s memory alive.  Paint a picture frame or create a memory book or box that the child gets to decorate and keep pictures in or do something else to keep the pet’s memory alive.

Parents can also talk to their child about having a funeral service for their pet and burying him or her.  Parents can talk to their child about what they think has happened to their pet and can bring in their religious aspects about death at this time.

These steps, while simple, will really help a child to comprehend and understand to the best of their ability the grief process and the death of their pet

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