HELPING CHILDREN DEAL WITH THE LOSS OF THEIR PET
Call us on 041 373 4243 to make an appointment with our bereavement counsellors.
This is often a child's first experience with grief, so it is important to make it as healthy as possible to set the tone for possible future emotional difficulties in life. Pets are often like a child's sibling or best friend, and you may find that they take their loss harder than losing some humans.
DO NOT lie to your child about the fate of their pet. It is natural to want to protect them, but this can actually cause far more harm than good. Make sure they understand that euthanasia (if applicable) is a painless death, and you and your vet did everything you could, but this is the best way to end their suffering.
Involve them in the decisions you make around the pet's passing, encourage memorialisation and sharing of memories. Talk to your child about the euthanasia (if applicable), invite them to attend if you wish, making sure they have a safe way out at all times. Ensure that they know all that will happen.
Make sure you talk to your child in a safe and distraction-free environment. Be guided by their questions as to how much you should tell them, answer briefly and as best you can, and be honest and open. It's okay to say “I don't know, but some people believe...”
Young children may not understand the permanence of death, and may ask more than once about the pet. Children may appear morbid with their questions, and teenagers may react erratically. It is important to be understanding. Children and even young adults often feel intense guilt surrounding the loss of a pet, and it must be clearly communicated that the pet's fate is in no way their fault.
Do not hide your own emotions: normalise the showing of feelings so that they won't be afraid of their own. Provide them with as much support as possible. Children may not always show their grief, but do not doubt that they feel it. If they process their grief through play, it is important to play along. Tell important adults around them, like teachers, about the loss so that they may be aware, and also help you be aware of behaviour changes.
Watch behavioural changes, as some disturbances are normal for a short time, but a psychologist may need to be brought in if disturbances worsen or continue.
Books to help children process grief:
“Goodbye, Brecken” by David Lupton (Ages 4-8)
“Kate, the ghost dog” by Wayne L. Wilson (Ages 8-13)
“Memories of you” by Erainna Winnet (Ages 7-12)
YouTube: Online Story Time #4: Sammy in the Sky
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