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Posts Tagged ‘Helping Your Child Cope’

For most kids, pets are more than just animals, they are members of the family and best friends. My cousin Josh and his family recently lost their first dog due to old age. His name was Magnus and was a huge part of the family, and like a sibling to their 3 (Spencer) and 1 (Gracie) year-old’s lives. Unfortunately, the wonders of owning a pet goes hand-in-hand with the heartbreak of losing one, whether it be because of old age, illness, or an accident, which can be very difficult.

Magnus and Grace

Pets are often the first to greet kids in the morning or after school. Many times pets may be the one your child looks to for comfort and companionship when ill or feeling unpopular or upset. It is natural to want to protect children from painful experiences, but any parent can help them cope with it. Many times, a pet’s death might be their first time losing a loved one for a child.

I had a dog growing up named Piglet. Yea, strange name, but she was a sharpei (the really wrinkly dogs) and kinda funny looking, but a loyal and loving dog. She actually used to be a “model” in many of our old Le Top campaigns! What I did learn from coping with her loss was that parents are the best judge of how much information a child can handle about death and the loss of their pet. My mom was honest and told me Piglet had cancer – it was tough, but I am glad she didn’t’ lie. Don’t underestimate children. You may find that, by being honest with your kid about your pet’s loss, you may be able to address some fears and misperceptions they have about death.

Here are some tips on how to tell your child:

1.   Share the News
One of the most difficult parts about losing a pet may be breaking the bad news to kids. Try to do so one-on-one in a place where they feel safe and comfortable and not easily distracted.  Try to gauge how much information kids need to hear based on their age, maturity level, and life experience. If your pet is very old or has a lingering illness, consider talking to kids before the death occurs. If you have to euthanize your pet, you may want to explain that the veterinarians have done everything that they can your pet would never get better this is the kindest way to take the pet’s pain away the pet will die peacefully, without feeling hurt or scared. It’s OK to use words like “death” and “dying.” Be brief, and let your child’s questions guide how much information you provide.

2.    Tell ‘em the Truth
Avoid trying to gloss over the event with a lie. Telling a child that “Rover ran away” or “Maestro went on a trip” is not a good idea. It probably won’t alleviate the sadness about losing the pet.

3.    Helping Your Child Cope
Don’t feel compelled to hide your own sadness about losing a pet. Showing how you feel and talking about it openly sets an example for kids. When my cousin’s little boy, Spencer, first learned that Magnus died, he was angry, but then learned to accept the loss of his pet. My cousin later cried from missing Magnus, but also seeing his children hurt.  Spencer went up to my cousin Josh and said, “It’s okay daddy.” Seeing Spencer learn from Josh was an example of how showing your child your own feelings sometimes helps them cope too.

Like anyone dealing with a loss, kids usually feel a variety of emotions, and might experience loneliness, anger, frustration that the pet couldn’t get better, or guilt about times that they were mean to or didn’t care for the pet as promised. Help kids understand that it’s natural to feel all of those emotions, that it’s OK to not want to talk about them at first, and that you’re there when they are ready to talk.

4. Moving On
After the shock of the news has faded, it’s important to help your child heal and move on. Help your kids find special ways to remember a pet. You might have a ceremony to bury your pet or just share memories of fun times you had together. Write a prayer together or offer thoughts on what the pet meant to each family member. Share stories of your pet’s funny moments or escapades. Most importantly, talk about your pet with love and affection often. Let your child know that while the pain will go away, but happy memories are forever.

This post is dedicated to my cousin Josh and his loving pup Magnus. He lived a long, drooly and loving life.

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