Not only do we grieve the loss of our pets, our children go through their own grieving process as well.. Most kids are highly expressive, and are more apt to show their sorrow than adults. After writing the blog on the stages of grief, I wanted to touch base on how we as parents, aunts, or uncles, grandparents, or friends can help our children grieve the loss of their furbaby, too.
The Friendship Between Kids and Their Pets
If your kids are anything like mine, they become attached to their pets…fast! My oldest son became best friends with our Malamute as a baby, and it was the same with my youngest. My middle son saved his heart for our cat, Hunter…but when they met, I could tell it was love at first sight.
My boys would request me to take pictures of them with their best friends, send them to teachers, print them out…make plaques, send the portraits to any art museum that would take them… Ok, so the last few are a little embellished, but you understand where I am going with this. These pets meant the world to my kids.
Each pet has given so much to each of my children, that I can see their hearts break when we have to let their best friend go. It was difficult enough to work through my own grief, but add three boys who lost their best friends? It was brutal.
I am sure it is the same scenario for your family. Your kids and pets are inseparable, and you aren’t sure how to help them cope through the grieving process when that time comes.
Ideas to Help Kids Grieve the Loss of Their Pet
Reading an article from Psychology today, Roxanne Hawn, author of Heart Dog: Surviving the Loss of Your Canine Soul Mate, offered some ideas that may help in the grieving process.
- Marking time: If your pet is diagnosed with a terminal illness, you can start a gratitude ritual that your children can participate in. Find something your pet can still do. If it is walk to a certain part of the yard, maybe put a notch in the tree or a stone in the yard each day they are still able to make it that far. If it is a terminal illness, maybe you can put a stone, a penny, a love note in a jar each day their best friend is alive. Allow them to come up with some ideas too. Kids are creative, and I am sure they will think of something cool.
- Let your child have a memento of your lost pet. My mother-in-law cut some of Roc’s fur and placed it in a baggie for each kid. My vet puts a little fur in a mini bottle. My mom, keeps her dog’s collar and tags on her purse. Find something that will comfort your kids, that helps them to remember the good times.
- Bowl of memories: This can also be an opportunity to help your kids through their grieving process. Everyone in the family can write down individual good memories on little slips of paper, and put them in a bowl. When your kids become sad, they can pull out a memory to read.
- Videos: How many kids love watching videos of themselves and their pets? One way to help preserve the good memories, is to put together a video or a slide show of your pets to watch. When the kids feel down, they can go to the computer, phone, iPad, tablet…whatever you have the video downloaded onto, and watch it to remember their furbaby.
- A candle / LED light (candle): I found this interesting, as you can place a light next to a picture of your pet or in a special place. The candle represents hope and life, and it can help your kids remember the good times they had when their pet was alive.
- Portraits: This can be a game changer. Kids are visual. When they lose a pet, they don’t get to see their pet again. Routines can become difficult, because their furbaby may not be laying in the hall when they brush their teeth, or they may not be at their feet when doing homework. A visual reminder is such a great idea, because it brings your kids eyes to their best friend. These can be kept in a prominent place, or if your child prefers, in their room, so they have it close to them when they sleep.
The most important thing to do is be honest! Your kids are smart, and they know something’s up when a pet goes missing. Involve them in the discussion and possibly (depending on their age) the decision to euthanize. For example, my oldest son was 7 when he decided he was going to be at Roc’s side when he passed over the Rainbow Bridge. I allowed him to make this decision because of his maturity level at the time, but also because I explained exactly what would happen at the vet’s office. My other two sons were not involved, and my mother-in-law took them away from the house during that time. We explained why Roc was no longer at home, but they were too young to be in the room when Roc was euthanized.
It will be difficult, but don’t lie to your kids. Don’t tell them that you took them to a ranch somewhere up North, where they can run freely. This is actually going to make their grieving process harder because they will think that their pet may have a chance of returning. It’s okay to be vulnerable and sad with your kids. They will understand…and will thank you in the long run.
Books That Can Help Your Kids
If you have questions on how to help your kids through the grieving process, there are a number of books that may help:
- The Heaven of Animals, by Nancy Tillman: This book tells of a Heaven where animals go when they pass away. Angels know every pet’s favorite game, and cat’s can bask in their own ray of sunshine. Even though the loss of a pet is difficult, this book shows that the love of your pet lives on.
- I Miss You: All Pets Go to Heaven by Judy Helm Wright: This book goes into the fact at a pet’s death may be the first death your child experiences. It is a book that the family can work through together, and talk openly about. It’s not only a book to help children, but to help parents in the process of their child’s grief.
- Helping Children Grieve (Grief Steps Guides)by Ruth Arent, MSW: This book is for parents. It is a guide for parents to help their children (littles through teens, etc) through the grieving process. It gives insight and wisdom, positive ideas and empathy in a direct, but empathetic way.
- Best Friends To The Very End: Dog Memory Journal Notebookby Darton Creations: This is a journal where your child can write what they feel. It is a safe place to release all the sadness, anger, grief, but also a place to remember the positive.
We all grieve the loss of our beloved pets; adults, kids…even our other pets… So, how do we at least help our children through the process safely and fully? We need to be there for them. Even if we are grieving ourselves, our children need our help. There are certain activities we can involve them in to help in the process, but there are also books that can help you to help them. I hope the ideas provided will help you in that time.
Let me know your thoughts or if you had other ideas on how to work through this. I would love to hear from you! Just leave a note below, and I will get back with you.
Sources used: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/adoption-stories/201507/6-family-friendly-ways-help-kids-grieve-after-pet-loss