• Children and Grief

  • Children may feel grief even if they don’t appear to express it. It may manifest in ways that are unexpected to adults. They may appear not to care or be affected, or they may express anger or a desire to replace the pet right away. Sometimes they handle it better than adults. It may be helpful for them to talk to somebody outside the family, or express their feelings through drawing or other art. There are a number of books that will help your child cope with the loss of a beloved pet.  Children should always be given the option to be present at the passing of a beloved pet. Some children will choose not to be, and that’s ok.

     

    As parents, we understand that the reactions of children to the loss of a pet will vary with age, maturity level, and their knowledge about death.  In very general terms, the following tips apply:

    • When possible, include children in the medical decisions (including euthanasia) that are being made for a family pet. Realize that young children may unreasonably want to pursue treatment regardless of prognosis or costs of care.
    • Don’t lie to kids, or overly shield them from what is happening.
    • Don’t exclude them from family discussions – kids know when they are being left out and can be deeply hurt by this.
    • To provide empathy and insight, Don’t assume you know what the child is feeling or wondering – ask them what they are worried or sad about, and what their questions are. Do not assume kids have the same existential concerns that adults have. Give comforting direct answers to the questions they ask and explain things at a level they can understand.
    • Reassure them regarding what they are concerned about (e.g. that it’s ok to cry, fear of death, guilt). Explain that death is natural and is not bad or a punishment.
    • Avoid euphemisms, especially “put to sleep” – these can be very confusing to children.

     

     

    Children’s suggested reading list:

     Dog Heaven, by Cynthia Rylant, 1995

     When a Pet Dies, by Fred Rogers, 1988

     Cat Heaven, by Cynthia Rogers, 1997

     The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst, 1975

     Talking with Children About Death and Dying:  A Workbook, M. Turner, 1998

     Lifetimes, B. Mellonie and R. Ingpen, 1983

     The Kids Book About Pet Loss:  Grieving and Healing After Losing Your Pet, by Vicky Taylor, 2013

     Saying Goodbye to Lulu, by Corinne Demas and Ard Hoyt, 2009

     Forever Paws, by Christine Davis, 2011