Helping A Child Cope with the Loss of a Pet

Lucy & SnowballBy Colleen Brunetti, M.Ed., C.H.C

 

One of the most difficult times a child can face is the loss of a beloved pet. The bond between pet and their young human can be incredibly strong. Whether the child was born into a household with pets and grew up with a special one, or they had a pet of their very own to care for and love, when the time comes for that pet to pass on, some special support is likely going to be needed. Here are some tips to help get you through:

 

Be honest: As hard as it can be to have to explain to your child that the pet has died (or will die in the very near future), the best thing to do is be very honest about it. Death is permanent, and while a very young child may have trouble grasping the permanency, you also don’t want them waiting and expecting a return.

 

Be open: It’s okay to be honest and open about your own grief as well. Seeing a parent grieve or cry may be a bit hard on a child, but it also allows them to see that grief is a normal process, and perhaps offer some reciprocal comfort (allowing for a time to build some empathy).

 

Be consistent: Although your family may be very sad, try to encourage some consistency in routine and activity. Young children thrive on routine and those boundaries help them feel safe and secure – a sense they will very much benefit from during this difficult transition.

 

Find ways to remember: Have your child draw a picture of, or write a story about, the pet they are missing. You can also help create a memory scrapbook. If you’ve buried the pet at home, plant a special little garden in the area. If the pet was not buried at home, still consider a little garden or memory stone that can be looked at and enjoyed.

 

Read a book: There are many lovely books about loosing a pet. Find one appropriate for your child and read it to them to help them begin to cope. Some suggested titles are:

Dog Heaven, Cat Heaven, by Cynthia Rylant

Desser the Best Ever Cat, by Maggie Smith

Goodbye Mousie, by Robie H. Harris

Grunt, by Suzanne Schlossberg

Jasper’s Day, by Marjorie Blain Parker

Saying Goodbye to Lulu, by Corinne Demas
The Tenth Good Thing About Barney, By Judith Viorst

 

Sources:
Dealing With the Loss of a Pet (Parenting.com)
Helping Your Child When the Family Pet Dies (ASPCA.org)