Family pets are often the center of a kid's world. So when Toby decides to take a walk in the street one day and doesn't come back, it's a pretty big deal. To a kid, this tragic event is comparable to an adult who is suddenly faced with a mid-life crisis.
This "mid-childhood" crisis can happen without warning and is difficult for children to process.
What are you supposed to do as a parent? Casually saying, "Oh, he went to heaven" will only get you so far. Here are six real things you can do to help you kids cope with the death of a pet:
1. Tell the truth
Tell your kids the truth about their pet. Don't try to hide what happened. Of course you'll want to be sensitive and age appropriate. Being honest will take away a lot of the subconscious anxiety and stress that your kids are feeling. If your children know the truth, they won't constantly worry about what happened to their pet or wonder when he is coming home.
Though it might seem harsh, being honest is the best tactic. It will make things easier in the long run and can help prevent other potential problems.
2. Have a pet funeral or create a living memorial
Consider having a mini funeral for your family's deceased pet. Yes, this might seem cheesy but it can mean a lot to your kids. The funeral doesn't have to be complex. It can be as simple as burying the animal and having everyone in the family go around and say what their favorite memory was with the pet.
A similar option is to create a living memorial. This might include hanging a picture of the pet in your house or having your kids draw pictures of the pet or write letters about how much how much they loved Fluffy. Put the creations in a binder and place on a coffee table where everyone in the family can look at them.
3. Control your own reaction
It really doesn't matter whether you were deeply attached to the family pet or if you rarely noticed it was there. What's important is how your kids felt about the pet and how you react to the animal's death.
Keep in mind that your children will monitor and mirror your own reaction. If you were attached to the pet, control your emotions and be careful not to overreact. If the whole situation isn't that big of a deal to you, avoid downplaying the pet's death or brushing it off.
Your children will look to you for how they should emotionally respond to what has happened.
Take the time to listen to your kids as they voice their thoughts and feelings. This will create a sense of security and trust that will help them cope. Don't ignore them or say that you don't want to hear any complaining, crying, etc. Encourage your kids to be open and honest; use this as an opportunity to grow closer to them.
5. Buy a stuffed animal for your younger children
If you have a really young child then you might consider buying him or her a stuffed animal. A stuffed animal can be a comfort item your child can love in place of the deceased pet. It can help them find closure and move on.
This is a much cheaper alternative to buying a new pet and can be just as effective, depending on the age of your child.
6. Make a scrapbook/photo album
Similar to the idea of creating a living memorial, you can create a scrapbook or photo album that highlights your pet's life. Involve the whole family and help change the mood from sad to happy.
Losing a family pet is never easy. However, you can make the grieving process easier by trying these six things. Hopefully, you and your children will be able to remember all the joy your pet brought to your lives.