A Child's View: When A Pet Dies
CATEGORY: Grief and Loss
BY: Dominique Butler, MSSA, LISW
PUBLICATION: About Grief
Has your family recently experienced the death of a beloved family pet? Are you struggling to find ways to help your child cope with the loss? If the answer is “yes,” there are several ways to help your child express their big feelings of grief and remember your pet.
There is a unique love language between a pet and its owner. A pet provides loyalty, responsibility, comfort, companionship, security, unconditional love and a timeless connection. A pet is so much more than an animal. Oftentimes, a pet is a child’s first playmate and best friend. For this reason, many children grieve the life, friendship and mere presence of their pet. They may miss their pet greeting them at the door when they get home from school, the regular walks or having a loyal companion by their side to cuddle, cry, talk or laugh with.
Whether the death is sudden or anticipated, the death of a pet can produce feelings of anger, guilt, loneliness and confusion. The child may blame their parents or themselves for having to “put a pet down” when the pet becomes sick or old. A child may become angry or feel guilty for crying or not being there when they took their last breath. It is important to be honest with your child and use simple language they understand. Some children may feel lonely because their companion and playmate is gone. Regardless of the feelings your child is experiencing, it is important to make time and provide a safe place for them to express their feelings.
Coming together as a family to remember your pet can help children through the grief process. Children can process feelings of grief through a ritual, ceremony or simple memory-making activity. Share stories, look at pictures and cry together as a family. After a period of time you may want to have a family discussion about getting another pet. Grief is a normal and natural process we go through when we experience any form of loss. Allowing your child the right to grieve at their own pace is the best support you can give them. Remember this: there is no right or wrong way to grieve the death of a pet that touched your life.