Keeping a family pet can provide some tremendous benefits when raising a child. Taking care of a pet teaches responsibility, empathy for other creatures, and other important lessons.
One lesson gained from having a pet is how to understand and cope with loss. It may not necessarily be a happy lesson, but it is one kids must learn at some point.
If you have lost a family pet, you may be wondering how to help your child move on and accept it. Here are some tips on how to do that.
Don’t Mince Words
If you are thinking about how to help a child move on from the loss of a pet, then the child is old enough to conceptualize that loss. As soon as children reach this age, it’s a bad idea to mislead them as to what happened to that pet. When dealing with the death of a pet, instead of saying it has “gone away” or “left,” you should be clear that the pet has “died.” This can mean talking about what death really means. Framing it as an end to any suffering, sickness, or hunger can help to present it in slightly better terms, but you shouldn’t mince words. Speak thoughtfully and with your child’s emotional well-being in mind.
Have Your Child Write Down Feelings
Most people struggle to talk about their emotions when prompted, and this can be especially true for children who are still forming their vocabulary. Expressing emotions can be an important step in processing them. As such, it can be easier for your child to write about the pet, rather than talking about it. You can encourage your child to write down some favorite memories and how much the pet will be missed. There are even downloadable workbooks that you can use for this. Also,encourage your child to draw a picture of the pet or memories about it, such as walking, grooming, or feeding the pet. This can also help open up the ability to speak about the memories.
Set Up a Memorial Place for the Pet
A place to express grief and to focus on memories of the pet can be important. You don’t want your child to remain in a depressed state over the loss of the family member, but trying to brush over it isn’t going to help that. Some adults may think that it is a little frivolous to fuss too much over a pet, but a pet is often a very important family member, and, as such, arranging a site for it in the garden or, with permission, in a park with pet memorials can be a way to respect and honor it. It can give your child the opportunity to say goodbye and to visit in the future to form fond memories.
Create a Photo Gallery or Photo Book
Taking photos of your pet while it’s alive is vital for a lot of reasons. One of those reasons is that after the pet’s death, it can become easy for the memories of the pet’s appearance to become somewhat fuzzy over time. This can be legitimately stressful for your child. To keep the memories present, create a little family photo gallery that includes pictures of the pet. You can also make a photo book with the pictures. Even the process of choosing those photos can help a child grieve, remember, and process emotions about the loss.
Use Books to Help
Often, children can’t always communicate their feelings effectively and so may not feel understood when they are grappling with emotions that are new and difficult for them. While it can help to talk about the feelings, you can also find books that might help. Books about animal loss, especially The Legend of Rainbow Bridge, are very popular for helping children come to terms with their grief and to feel like their emotions are valid, rather than any source of shame or embarrassment.
A pet can very much become an important member of the family, so emotional intelligence and understanding are key when coping with its death. Be respectful of your child’s feelings during the grieving process.
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