Amy M. Spagnola


Blog Post for CounselingWise

Pet Loss—How to Help Your Child Cope with Grief

Many children forge deep bonds with their pets, as they become playmates and partners in crime. Pets provide a source of companionship, amusement and comfort for children, and their passing can have a dramatic impact on their emotional state.

When a child loses a beloved pet, they often feel as though they’ve lost a member of the family.

As mortality can be a difficult and uneasy subject for adults to digest and grapple with, children are likely to feel even more sensitive to the permanence and shock of the death of a pet.

In an effort to remedy their feelings of anger, hurt and confusion, children may start to act out or behave inappropriately.

A cloud of despair may hang over an otherwise happy child, and cause them to withdraw, lash out or become agitated. While this cloud may loom for some time, there are ways to help your child fight feelings of sadness and heal.

Healing Heartbreak—4 Ways to Support your Child as they Cope with Loss of a Pet:

1.) Scrapbooking
It’s often therapeutic for children to revisit old photographs, mementos or other keepsakes that were special to his/her favorite pet. Putting together a book of memories can help children ‘let go’ of their feelings of sorrow and remind them of all the cherished times they spent with their favorite animal.

2.) Saying Good-Bye
There are many ways to offer children the opportunity to have closure after experiencing the death of a pet. A memorial service, whether it’s planting a tree to honor the animal, or writing a farewell letter, will help children accept that their pets have departed and are at peace.

3.) Solace and Sharing
One of the most important aspects of helping a child recover from grief is to reassure them that losing the pet was not their fault, and that nothing could be done to have prevented the loss. Explaining that the passing of the pet was a normal and natural part of life can help the child release any guilt or pent up anguish. It’s also an opportune time for answering bigger questions about birth, life and death.

4.) Starting Over
While not prudent for parents or family members seek to help children cope with the loss of a pet by replacing it, there will likely be an appropriate time for a new pet when a child has accepted and processed the passing fully. While opening up the discussion of another animal is discouraged until there are clear indicators that the child is emotionally ready, a new pet can provide joy and positive energy.

And while a child may need additional hugs, encouragement and together time while they grieve and move on from the loss of their coveted pet, there are other ways to hasten the healing process using story time as a chance to remind and reassure.

Reading Resources Recommended for Children:

Forever Paws by Christine Davis; Lighthearted Press Inc.; 2011.

Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant; Blue Sky Press, 1995.

Paw Prints in the Stars by Warren Hanson; Tristan Publishing, 2008.

I’ll Always Love You by Hans Wilhelm, Dragonfly Books, 1988.

The Rainbow Bridge: A Visit to Pet Paradise by Adrian Raeside, Harbour Publishing, 2012.

Certain children may bounce back quickly following loss, while others need extra alone time and quiet. It’s important to honor each child’s journey.

As the death of a pet can be jarring, it’s often useful to inform other adults in the child’s life, such as teachers and coaches, of the current situation. The support of adult role models can significantly affect a child’s ability to return to a state of contentment and a place of understanding.

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