Bringing a new dog home to meet the family for the first time is a very special memory. From that day forward, your kids will learn from and grow right alongside your dog, creating a very special bond.
But sadly, the day will come all too soon when our trusted companion is no longer with us. As adults, we know that we’re signing up for this inevitable truth — but only in exchange for inseparable companionship for many years.
Even as an adult, the death of a pet is a devastating event that can be difficult to work through, even if we thought we were emotionally prepared for it.
For children, it can be especially confusing to experience all sorts of emotions following the passing of the family dog. That’s because often the death of a pet is a child’s first experience with serious grief, and it can be very overwhelming for the whole family.
If you’ve ever experienced losing a pet as a kid, you know how hard it is to understand the weight of the situation. Luckily, there are some tips to help families cope with the loss of a pet and make the healing process a little easier.
4 Ways to Help Kids Cope With the Death of a Pet
1. Use honest language
Death is hard to talk about for most of us, but putting it off can only delay feelings and cause more confusion.
Depending on your children’s age, be open and direct about what happened. Younger children may need simpler language and reminders that their dog won’t be a part of their daily life any longer.
It seems tough, but facing grief head on from an early age will help your children learn how to manage these complicated feelings and heal.
2. Check in often
Because everyone grieves differently, try to avoid pushing your child to heal in a certain way or within a specific time period. Allow your kids to lead their own discussions and ask plenty of questions.
Let them know that whatever they’re experiencing is totally normal and that it’s okay to feel sad or angry. Spend time together or give them space to be alone — whatever helps them feel better.
3. Honor your pet
It may not be right away, but when your family is ready to celebrate your pet’s life, talk about ways to do so together.
You might decide to take a stroll through your dog’s favorite park and talk about your best memories, or maybe make a donation in your dog’s name to a local shelter.
Finding a special way to help your dog’s memory live on can be a very cathartic part of the grieving process.
4. Offer resources for grieving
There are many great books that address the topic of grieving for a lost pet. Some books are aimed at children, while others are for parents to help their children cope. I strongly recommend taking a look at these helpful resources if you or your child is in the throes of grief over a lost pet.
When I lost a pet as a child, I think my parents were surprised at the profound affect the loss had on me. They saw the situation as just another cat, whereas I felt as though I’d lost my best friend.
It’s important in situations like this not to minimize your child’s feelings. Don’t say things like, “It was just a pet” and don’t make promises to get a new pet soon.
Let the child grieve, even if you don’t quite understand it, and watch for the child’s cues to know when to move forward with talk about bringing home a new pet.
Have you dealt with the loss of a pet?
I’d love to hear about your experience in a comment below. Or better yet, stop by my private Facebook group for dog moms and join in the conversation there!