For a child, a pet is more than “just an animal.” Often a child considers a pet his or her best friend or another very important member of the family. When pets pass away, your child, like adults, may feel a variety of emotions from sadness and loneliness to guilt and anger at friends whose pets are still alive. Your child may wonder why the pet died and what will happen to it next.
You can help your child understand that it’s natural to feel all of those emotions and that you’re there when they are ready to talk. Never lie to your child about the fact that the pet has died or what death means. Don’t try to hide your own sadness — showing how you feel and talking about it openly sets a good example for kids.
After the initial shock, you’ll need to help your child heal. Here are some ideas that you might want to try when dealing with the death of a pet:
- Share stories about the pets you had when you were young and how hard it was to say goodbye.
- Have your child draw a picture of their pet or write a letter to it.
- Have a memorial or burial service for the pet. Plant a tree or flowers in your pet’s honor or mark its burial site with a special stone. Your child may want to help plan the service.
- If the pet has been cremated, arrange a special place in the home for the urn.
- Let your child keep something from the pet such as a collar, tag or favorite toy if they want.
- Make a scrapbook about the pet. Let your child include information about your pet’s favorite toys, treats, things to do or special memories. Include pet tags and other small mementos.
- Make sure you child engages in his or her regular activities such as going to school, playing with friends or attending extracurricular activities.
- Give your child a book on pet loss—there are many good ones from which to choose.
- Talk about your pet, often and with love and encourage your child to do the same. Let your child know that the happy memories of the pet will always remain.
- Place a memorial message on a website. There are many out there including RainbowBridge.org, Critters.com and pets-memories.com.
But whatever activities you do, always remember to give your child plenty of hugs and reassurance. And be sure to listen to them when they are ready to talk. When the time is right, you can introduce a new pet to the house, reminding the child that “Fluffy” hasn’t been forgotten but the new pet has been waiting for a forever home with new people to love it.
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