As a parent, you know that there is no one right way to help your children deal with challenges they face. Most of the time, the best you can do is give them the benefit of your experience, and try and figure a solution out together. The death of the family pet will be one of those challenges that can have a significant emotional impact upon both your children and yourself.
That said, with some time, care, and loving attention you can help them not only cope with this loss, but also build mechanisms to help them in the future.
Let’s have a look at a few useful areas of focus.
Patience and Honesty
Patience isn’t always easy, particularly at a time of high emotion — let’s face it, you’re also personally going to be grieving the family pet. But this is a moment at which you need to set time aside to be not just a caring presence, but also a focus for their curiosity. Just like everything else that is new to them, your kids are going to have a lot of questions about the death of their pet.
Approach these questions gently, but with honesty. Avoiding the topic, or using platitudes such as their pet has “gone to sleep” can just confuse the issue. Remember also that your child’s ability to grasp the concept of death can be dependent upon their age. Kids don’t tend to understand the permanence of death until they are at least 4. Start slowly, give them the opening to ask whatever questions they need to. Above all else let them know that there is always an open dialogue between you, and they can talk to you whenever they need to.
Death Positive Activities
The phrase “death positive” might seem unusual. However, it’s actually a really healthy way for you and your children to talk about death without the fear that can often surround it. While the passing of their much loved pet is a sad occasion, this is an opportunity for them to learn and grow as people.
Some activities could include:
Creative Writing. Have your children write one last letter to their beloved pet, compose a poem, or spin their favorite story about their time together. This not only directs the energy of their grief, but also reminds them of all the positive emotions surrounding their pet.
Reading. There are a lot of books aimed at children of all ages about death and grief; some specifically on the subject of pets. This can be a great opportunity to spend some quality time together, and a forum through which to discuss their feelings.
Building an Album. Get together with your children and choose some favorite photos of your passed pet, and put them in an album. Have your child paint or draw some pictures to include in there too. As you’re doing so, talk through the emotions each image evokes. This physical object filled with memories can also help to fill a little of the absence your pet has left behind whenever your child needs it.
Creating a memorial for your family pet serves multiple purposes. It’s an opportunity for the whole family to come together and celebrate the life of your pet. It’s a practical focus for your child’s grief. It also helps you all to move toward a sense of closure.
“Can you tell me where to buy an urn for my pet?” probably isn’t a question most of us expect to ask. However, such accoutrements help to bring a sense of familiarity and order to proceedings. Have your children not only pick out the urn, but choose an area for it to be put on display during the service. Encourage them to write a eulogy, or just to share some memories. The important thing here is to keep them involved throughout the organization and execution of the memorial.
The death of the family pet can be one of the most difficult childhood experiences. Be honest with your children, provide activities that help them to understand the situation, and hold a positive memorial service together. With a few small but significant actions, you can help your child cope with their grief at this difficult time.
Nat Juchems is Marketing Director at Green Meadow Memorials, Nat helps those grieving the loss of a loved one find the right memorial to cherish.
Before becoming Marketing Director at Green Meadow Memorials, Nat worked for six years in the memorials ecommerce industry as a Marketing Director and Ecommerce Director, using his skill set to manage powerful paid search and organic search campaigns as well as implement merchandising strategies and manage the software development teams that made everything work.
Nat enjoys spending time with his family and balancing that with training for triathlons.