Over the years, your family has probably had a plethora of pets. Unfortunately, saying hello to dogs, cats, bunnies, hamsters, and goldfish has also meant some challenging days of saying farewell to your precious pets. Pets can be a valuable part of your family that teaches excellent life lessons. They can teach your child how to be responsible, sensitive to others’ needs, and nurturing. Teaching your dogs new tricks can also give your children a sense of pride.
However, there will be a day when you have to say goodbye to your beloved family pet. In many ways, grief is like a mixture of anger, sadness, and regret. Depending on their age, your child may not know how to handle this combination of emotions. Recognizing and constructively using these feelings is an essential lesson for kids to learn.
For young family members, losing a pet is their first exposure to grief. Pets can bring so many physical and health benefits into our lives, so we should help people process their feelings of grief, especially younger kids. You wouldn’t want your child to grow up and decide not to have pets because losing their first was too painful. Here are some ways to help your child deal with the loss of a pet.
If your pet is getting older or diagnosed with a terminal illness, it may help to create a gratitude routine to commemorate the passing time. For example, you could collect coins every day your pet survives its disease. If your dog is having problems with walking, you could mark wherever they feel strong enough to walk. Whatever you choose, this ritual will help you spend more time with your pet in their last days. It could also help you explain that your pet’s days are drawing close, and you’re using these methods to celebrate the time they have left.
Keep a memory bowl.
Let everyone in the family write down happy memories of your pet on scraps of paper and put their thoughts into a bowl. When someone goes through a bout of grief or sadness, they can go to the bowl, read a happy memory, and remember a more joyful time for at least a moment. If you have children who can’t write or spell yet, they can make drawings of your pet instead of writing a memory.
It may help your younger children keep a dearly departed pet’s beloved keepsake with them, especially soon after the loss. For example, if your child wants to carry your pet’s collar around or sleep with the pet’s favorite toy for a while, that’s okay. These keepsakes will help comfort them in the early days of the loss and may help them as time goes on.
Make a tribute video.
Following a pet’s death, the tribute exercise of making a digital slideshow or homage video to a meaningful song can be an excellent way to document your pet’s life and essential role in the family. You could sit down as a family and choose your favorite songs, video clips, and pictures. Then, the most tech-savvy person with solid editing skills can put the video together. Once they finish editing the video, you can host a family dinner and watch the tribute video together. Whenever your children feel sad about the lost pet, they can watch the tribute video and think about the good times.
Get a portrait of your pet.
In the age of digital pictures but not as many prints, this could be your opportunity to make a memorable trip to print out your favorite images. While you’re finishing up what needs to be done to remember your pet’s life, you should print out a large picture and frame it. Once you put away the bowls, toys, and other items your pets used, the photo can remove the empty feeling in your house. This picture should hang in a part of the home where everyone can see it. You could also turn this into a family activity and have your children make the frame or artwork themselves.
Light a candle.
Battery-operated LED candles can give a shimmer of hope inside a grief-stricken home. You can put the candle beside a favorite picture of your pet in a shared living space or let each family member make their remembrance spot. LED candles, usually safer than real ones, can be a comforting reminder during sad times. Be sure to get rechargeable batteries because you’ll go through many of them, especially if you keep them on 24/7.
It may be best to work as a family to choose which activities make sense to do as a unit and which ones should be done individually. It may also help balance coping strategies with the sad project of filing away your pet’s life, like donating or storing their toys, beds, or leashes. Giving yourself or your children busy work won’t make the grief disappear. Each day will have a dose of suffering; if you don’t deal with it right then, it’ll be there when you’re finished. To move forward, you must allow yourself and your kids to feel your feelings.
Taking on memorial projects can help you focus your and your kids’ grief in a productive manner. It’s better to embrace suffering through action instead of sweeping it under the rug. Losing a pet can be difficult for anyone, but kids can take it hard. For most children, the loss of a pet is their first experience with grief. While they’re going through this challenging time, let your child know they can talk to you about how they feel. Losing a pet is unfortunate, but this loss can also help your child learn about the circle of life.
When they’re ready for it, sit your child down and explain to them that death is part of life. If they’re younger, try to explain it in the best age-appropriate way possible. Remember that this is a sensitive time so try not to go too deep into detail. Finally, let them feel their emotions and try not to rush the grieving process.