How to Parent them Through their Grief
They are furry, slimy, scaly, or cuddly. They are the other children in our homes – the family pets. And when something happens to Fred the Fish, Leonardo the Lizard, or Dixie the beloved family dog, we can find our parental heads reeling as we try to help our kids cope with the death of these pets. For some children, the death of a pet is a defining moment – it marks their first real and tangible loss in life. As a parent who has buried her fair share of the family’s fish, lizards, cats, and even dogs, helping kids deal with what can be a significant loss is challenging and sometimes even frightening.
Ways to Help Your Child Deal with the Loss of a Pet
There are no easy answers, and there is not set rule book for guiding kids through the grief process when they lose a pet. But if you never had and lost pets as a child, or if this kind of pain that your child is experiencing is more than you feel prepared for, remember that your child just needs you to guide and support – not magically erase the sadness. Pets bring so many wonderful things into our lives and the lives of our kids, that when those pets are lost we need to recognize those losses as significant if that is how our kids feel (even if we didn’t hold the same attachments).
Allow their grief to be what it is. Perhaps you weren’t aware of the fact that your son used to sit near the family pet and tell her all of his secret dreams and fears. Without this quiet confidant, your son might now be feeling even more alone than you could imagine or that he knows how to process. Some children don’t seem significantly affected by the loss, but this doesn’t mean that the effects aren’t there.
Don’t hide it or ignore it. Even if you weren’t particularly attached to Chester the Asian Dwarf Frog, recognizing that your child is expressing emotions for loss is a powerful statement you can make as a parent. This is an opportunity to teach respect, compassion, and empathy.
Give them opportunities for remembrance. This will be different for each family, the age of the kids, and the impact the pet had on your kids, but there are several things you can do to help your kids through this grieving process.
- Pray. I’ve stood with sobbing children and prayed aloud that they were able to be comforted by memories, and we’ve said special prayers together that have comforted us all.
- Get a special picture frame for each child to display a favorite picture of the family pet.
- Journal together as a family, recording special memories about the pet, or provide older kids with their own journals where they can record their thoughts and memories.
- Do something in honor of your family pet. Take a walk on his favorite trail or make a donation to the local animal shelter in her honor. Doing positive activities together helps to ease some of the pain.
Look for other resources. There are some great books available that parents can read with their kids on the subject of pets and loss, as well as just recognizing and honoring emotions.
I do know some families who chose not to have pets because they worry that their children will suffer to greatly when the pet eventually passes. Parenting a child through grief is such an emotional journey for everyone, but even through the losses my kids have experienced, I wouldn’t trade an ounce of those for the lessons they have learned from their fish, rabbits, kittens, dogs, and even lizards. These creatures have given our family funny memories, tender moments, and lessons we will never forget.
‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. ~ Tennyson