Telling Children About Loss Of A Pet

Telling Children About Loss Of A PetSometimes children or adolescents cannot remember life without the pet that was just lost and for them the loss may be extremely difficult to deal with, and telling children about loss of a pet can be difficult for the parents. If this is the case, then talking to a professional experienced in grief counselling may be needed. It is important to keep in mind that this does not mean that the parent has failed to provide the support that the child required either. Professionals or support groups, pet loss hotlines, or books on pet loss specialize in the behaviour that a child might exhibit at the loss of a pet, and can help them deal with the loss faster than a parent can, which is important for their well being.

Many factors can contribute to how a child will feel when they lose a pet or when telling children about loss of a pet. Their age and maturity are important, because just like older people, the relationship the child had with the pet, the circumstances of the pet’s death, and other events or losses the child has experienced will influence the grieving process. The ability of parents and others to provide pet loss support will also play an important role in helping the child work through the grief.

The following maps out how a child may respond to the loss of a pet, dependant on the age of the child.

If you have an infant or child of up to two years old, they may not understand the death or loss of a pet, but are aware of tension and change in the emotional state of those around them. Reassuring them by hugging and holding them, and keeping a similar household routine helps.

When toddlers or pre-school children are involved, they may not understand that death is permanent or absolute. They will need help in understanding the pet will not wake up or come back to them. Do not try to hide the pet’s illness or death because they are often the first to sense that something is wrong. Trying to isolate them is also not a good idea because they may experience emotions that include abandonment or betrayal, and it also takes away their ability to say good-bye to the pet. Reassure them that it is okay to ask questions and feel sad because even children as young as two years old can experience feelings of grief and sorrow. Attempting to hide the loss that an adult feels about the death of a pet may result in a child feeling no one would care if they died as well.

Young children are sometimes unable to express their feelings and act out instead. They may display bursts of anger or aggression or start displaying regressive behaviour such as bed wetting, thumb sucking or even complain of not feeling well. They may even start to experience severe separation anxiety, or may even think it was something they did or thought that caused their pet to die, and blame themselves. Even if a child has not come right out and said it, it is helpful to let them know that they were not responsible for the death of the pet.

If the decision was to euthanize the pet, explain to the child that it is a painless injection of medication, which allows the pet to die and not suffer any further. It should also be made clear that the injection that the pet receives is not like the shot they themselves receive from a doctor. It is also a personal family choice and age dependant whether or not to have the child present during the procedure, but you can also choose to have the child enter them room immediately afterwards instead. Do not explain euthanization as “put to sleep” because young children may become confused and start to exhibit signs of fear of falling asleep themselves immediately afterwards. They may think they will not wake up or become terrified in the future if they are told they are going to be put to sleep before a required surgery or at the dentist.

When a child is grade school age, they normally understand the concept of death either through education, personal experience, or experience of their friends, and know that it is permanent. They usually ask a number of questions about how and or why the pet died and a parent should answer all of them to put their mind at ease. A child over the age of 12 may have a very difficult time recovering from the grief, and may not be open about how much emotional pain they are experiencing. The reason they exhibit this behaviour is because they do not want to be perceived as weak, and are able to deal with the loss of a pet similar to way they think an adult can. Adolescents should not be put in the position of having to take on extra responsibilities such as caring for siblings during this time of crisis.

If at all possible, prepare the child ahead of time for the death. Mementos and memorials can be very important for children to recover from the grief process. Even an informal memorial service can provide a child with the opportunity to say a final goodbye and they should always be able to participate in any arrangements that their might be. If the pet is to be buried, the child should be given the option to be there because if it is done without the child’s knowledge it can make the entire grieving process more difficult for them, and make the child less trusting of his parents at a time when he really needs them. If you are going to keep the pet’s ashes, then the child should be given the choice of helping to choose from available pet urns.

Support at this time from parents, family and friends is important for children of any age, and will assist in helping the child work through grief. If you need further information there are a number of books on pet loss that are specifically written about telling children about loss of a pet and we have included a selection of some of the best in that section of Pet Memorial Urns Online.