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Are you helping a child with the death of a pet and are you wondering about the best way to guide them? Are they asking you a ton of questions about the loss of their pet and you aren’t sure how to answer them? Would you like to support you child through the process in a healthy and honest way by answering their questions correctly?
When the beloved family dog dies or a child’s cat passes on, nothing can be more heartbreaking than seeing your child grieve. Children often don’t understand why their precious friend is gone, so they look to you for guidance. You might struggle with one of the most common questions children have about the death of a pet: “Why did my dog die?” or “Why did my cat die?”
Can be a particularly difficult situation
No one likes to talk about death. While you must explain death to a child, you also must understand that this concept is new to children. A very young child might not be sad at all; or an older child might have a more difficult time with the experience than adults.
Your child will look up to you as a source of guidance through this time. In order to provide the most clear and consistent guidance when helping a child with the death of a pet, first discover your own attitudes and feelings about death. You must understand what you really feel versus what you are told to feel by society. Once you know your true feelings about death, you can provide more consistent reassurance to help a child through the death of a pet.
5-Tips for helping a child with the death of a pet
I have five tips that can make this tough situation easier.
Tip #1: Be honest. Some parents want to spare their children the pain of pet loss, so they will say that the cat ran away to live in the country or the cat has gone to sleep. You certainly don’t want to see your child in pain, but teaching your child a healthy attitude about death is imperative to his or her grieving process. When your child asks what happened to the cat or dog, explain that he has died. Your child will probably ask what that means. You can then explain that his body simply stopped working and he no longer eats, breathes, moves, sees, or hears.
Tip #2: Carefully show your grief. The concept of grief is often new to children. They will be affected by your crying and other emotions. It is perfectly okay to cry in front of your child and show him or her that being sad about the death of a pet is normal. However, you should avoid displaying rage or other upsetting emotions. Show the extreme parts of grief in private.
Tip #3: Help your child through the grieving process. Always be open to discussing the pet loss with your child. While it may be painful to talk about your pet after a loss, your child is looking to you for guidance through the grieving process. Tell your child what normal stages and feelings of grief are. Dismiss myths that he or she may have heard. Finally, ask your child if he or she has any questions or wants to talk about the pet.
Tip #4: Grief and mourning are different. Grief is an inward expression of loss, while mourning is an outward expression. By supporting your child through his or her grief, you create a new level of bonding and family closeness. Your child will know that you support him or her. Then, your child will be more comfortable mourning with you.
Be sure to include your child in mourning. Create a memorial or write a pet loss poem with your child. Relive fond memories of your pet during the funeral together. Allow your child to do things he or she thinks are appropriate for mourning, such as making macaroni frames for the pet’s picture or praying. By including your child in these mourning activities, you strengthen your bond together and give your child a chance to gain closure and express his or her feelings.
Tip #5: Set an example for the grieving process. Your child looks up to you as a role model. While this can be heartwarming, it can also be scary. Don’t worry that you are a bad role model for grief. Simply strive to be as supportive and unconditionally loving toward your child as your family pet was.
Be ready with answers—
This may be your child’s first exposure to death, so it is an opportunity to teach your child to have a healthy attitude about loss and grief. Together, the two of you can grieve and support each other through this time. And be prepared for their multitude of questions.
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Wendy Van de Poll, MS, CEOL is a certified pet loss grief coach, bestselling author, animal medium and communicator. Through her experience and working with others she teaches folks . . . grief needs attention so that it can teach the profound lessons of life. You can reach Wendy by clicking here. She also has many books on Amazon to help you on your journey. Her newest is Pet Loss Poems: To Heal Your Heart and Soul. If you would like to become a Certified Pet Loss Specialist and help families and their children click here.