How to Help Your Kids Deal With Their Pet’s Death
When a family pet dies, our kids often have many questions like “Where is my doggy now?” or “Will we all leave and never come back just like he did?”. As a parent, it can be challenging to respond. The death of a family pet is never an easy thing to explain to a child. It can be extremely confusing, not to mention depressing, to deal with the grief, especially if your kids are still very young.
It is, therefore, essential for you as a parent to guide your child in the mourning process. Every parent has their own way of breaking the news of a pet’s death to their children, and that’s perfectly okay. If you are clueless about how to tell your children about the sad news, here are some simple tips.
1. Don’t lie to your child.
It can be tempting to hold back from telling the whole truth, especially if your child is still young. You may feel it will be easier on your child if you soften the news by telling them that their pet has another family to take care of, or has embarked on an adventure like those characters your child reads on his books. However, making these stories up is not the best method. All parents know their kids are more intuitive than they appear.
It’s up for you as a parent to decide how much information you want to share with your child, but being direct with them will help them understand what’s happening. Knowing the reality is the first step for them to begin processing what they feel towards the death of their beloved pet.
Death is an inevitable part of life, and your kids will have to deal with grief throughout their existence. And while mourning is not an easy thing to go through, it will help them cope with future losses if they learn about grief now in a safe environment that you as a parent can create.
It’s also important to remember that while you need to be honest with your child, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to share every single detail. Choose words you’re comfortable with and skip the gory details when breaking the news to your child, but also see to it that you use the word “death,” so they get a clear picture of the reality.
If you intend to tell your child that their pet went to “heaven,” make sure to explain the consequences in terms of your dog’s physical presence in the world. You wouldn’t want your child to think that his pet is wandering in someplace unknown, as it can only make things worse.
If your pet is seriously ill or severely injured but still alive, talk to your child about your pet’s condition. It will be easier for you to explain to your child when your pet leaves you for good. However, if your pet suddenly dies due to an accident, be patient and gentle in answering your child’s unending questions about his beloved friend.
2. Acknowledge your child’s emotions.
After breaking the news to your child, expect to see a wide range of emotions. Your child may cry or even throw tantrums, or he may completely ignore what you said. These are all ways of processing the information. Children, especially young ones, are still in the process of identifying their emotions, so they often rely on their parents to validate their feelings.
It is your role as a parent to acknowledge how your child feels towards the loss, regardless of how you personally feel. The Kübler-Ross model states that there are five stages that people go through when they are grieving, namely denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. To better understand how your children feel, try to identify what stage they’re currently experiencing, and patiently guide them to progress to the next.
If your child is in the denial stage, gently remind him that your pet is already dead. Remind them that they cannot do anything to change the situation if they are experiencing the bargaining stage. Cheer them up when they’re feeling sad or lonely. Help them relive their memories with their pets once they reach the stage of acceptance.
Your emotions may not be the same as that of your child’s. They may move on faster than you expected or may mourn longer than you deem necessary. Your role is to monitor them, so they don’t bottle up their emotions. If you’re worried about your child’s well-being, discuss with a counselor or a support group how you can help your child accept the loss and move on from the sad experience.
You might find yourself going through these emotions as well, and it’s understandable because it was your pet, too, in the first place. While your kids look to you for strength, it will not help if you ignore your emotions. You need to heal as much as your child.
3. Celebrate your pet’s life.
After explaining the death of your pet to your child, you may be unsure how your family will move on from the sad experience. It will be tough to face your everyday life without seeing your pet around your home, but you will have to set an example for your kids on how to go on with life without the family pet.
One of the best things you can do to help the whole family at this point is to celebrate the life of your beloved pet. Share stories about the happy times and silly moments that your family had with the pet as you’d do in a memorial service. You and your child can make a scrapbook of your pet’s life that will serve as a tangible memory of your pet.
You can also donate your pet’s belongings to a local animal shelter. This way, your child can process grief by helping others. Seeing the joy they bring to another animal may help them move on quicker.
Remember that dealing with the loss of a pet is a process. Don’t rush your child’s emotions, and don’t belittle their feelings. It’s also not necessary for you to adopt a new pet right away. Wait until everyone – yourself included- has processed their emotions.
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