When the family pet dies, children can have a hard time coming to terms with this loss. For many children, the death of a pet is their first experience with death and they are apt to have many questions about the subject, including whether pets go to heaven. Some of these questions will be challenging for a parent to handle, especially when the parent himself is grieving the loss. Here is how to comfort children after the death of a pet.
Things You'll Need
- Ability to talk to children at their own level
Grieve your own loss first. When you are talking with your children about the death of a pet, your children need your focus to be on their pain, not yours. The death of a pet can hit you hard, so take some time to cry and process your own emotions first. That will free you up to focus on your children’s emotional needs.
Explain the cycle of life. At a level that your children can understand, explain that death is a natural part of life. All living things are born, live their lives and then die. Tell your child that, while the body dies, love continues to live forever.
Tell your children that the pet lives on in memories. Explain that while memories of the pet are painful right now, they will make the children happy in the future. As long as the children remember the pet, a part of the pet will continue to “live.”
Answer any questions the children might have. Children can surprise you with their questions, so be prepared for going places that you could not anticipate. Answer all of the questions as truthfully as you can in an age-appropriate way. It is okay to say that you do not know the answer (such as whether dogs go to heaven) but then ask the child what he thinks.
Talk about the grieving process. While many children are too young to understand what a grieving process is, you can explain that it is normal for them to feel really sad and maybe even angry for a while. Let them know that you are feeling the same things and that you have been crying, too.
Allow yourself to express emotions in front of the children. Your children need to know that it is okay to cry when they feel sad about the death of a pet. If you feel the need to cry, allow yourself to shed a few tears in front of the children. Explain that tears are nature’s way of making your heart feel better. Save the falling apart for when you are alone; however, modeling that it is okay for people to cry when they are sad is a wonderful lesson to teach your children.
Give your children photographs of the pet. Being able to see a picture of the pet can be comforting to a child. Also, being able to touch a picture of the pet can help children through the grieving process.
Be patient. Grieving the death of a pet can take a long time. Your children might tell you in the following weeks, or even months, that they are still sad about the death of a pet. Reassure them that it is okay to feel sad about the death of a pet and that you sometimes still feel sad, too.
Tips & Warnings
- If your child is taking the death of a pet particularly hard, consider finding a child therapist with experience in counseling children in the death of a pet.
- Some children will apply the death of a pet to the death of a parent. If your child suddenly becomes very clingy, reassure the child that people have much longer life expectancies than pets do and that you plan to be around for a long, long time.
- Do not immediately replace the dead pet with a new one. Some people are tempted to buy a new pet so children have another pet upon which to focus. A beloved family member cannot be replaced so easily. Give your children time to grieve the death of a pet before getting a new pet.
- Photo Credit Faith Allen