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6 Helpful Hints to Support Your Child in Their Grief
A family pet is so much more than the method you chose to teach your children responsibility. This animal has become your children’s comfort in distressful times, their playment when they are bored, their confidant when they want to share; essentially their best friend.
Losing a pet is excruciatingly difficult and a very emotional experience for many children. Here are some helpful hints for you, as a parent to support your child during this traumatic time.
If your family pet is getting older, you are aware that the inevitable outcome of saying good bye, is sooner rather than later.
Have a plan.
Get your stories straight with your partner.
What do you believe?
Questions about death, how it works, and what happens next are bound to come up, be ready.
My family did not have a one faith or a strong belief in particular when I was young.
I was 6 years old when I saw my cat, Cindy Lou Who, get run over.
I was devastated.
My dad and I buried her and I asked him, “What happens to Cindy Lou Who now? Will she go to heaven?”
I was vulnerable, young, and traumatized by seeing the entire event.
My dad responded in his logical and automatic fashion, and he stated his beliefs, “Of course not, animals do not have souls, therefore they do not go to heaven.”
Whether you believe this or not, know how you will answer this question, at this awful time, for your child.
I argue, to this day, that he did not break it to me well.
I would have loved a lie.
I wanted to hear that of course Cindy Lou Who was in Kitty Heaven chasing mice and playing with all of the new friends who were waiting for her.
You need to be true to your belief system, but you will also need to balance what your child can take hearing.
This is really hard to do spur of the moment, try to have a story or plan ready to go.
How your pet dies determines how your child will “find out.”
If your animal is old and suffering and you choose to end the pain the animal is struggling through, you will have to determine if it is better that your child watches this process, says good-bye before you take the animal, or you simply tell your child the animal died while they were away (school, at a friends, relatives, playing, etc).
Regardless of which way you feel will be best for your child, allow them space to grieve.
They will be mourning the loss of a dear friend.
It may feel to them that this pet was the one member of the family that always let them talk, be themselves, was excited to see them, would cuddle them as long as they wanted, and made sure they never felt lonely.
Whether any of this is true or not, the feelings are real.
Allow your child space to have their feelings.
"LOVE NOTES" FOR YOU TO SEND TO YOUR CHILD
Sometimes do you forget to say the "mushy" stuff to your kids?
In this list I share:
- Easy “cut out” format
- Each day has a fun graphic with it
- All of the encouragements are different
- You can “stash” these notes in different places throughout the week, month or year for a lovely surprise.
- Build your relationship.
- Guide your child towards a better self-esteem.
- Remind them how much you care.
When your child is ready to express their feelings, help them.
You can encourage great memories of the pet, that will bring as many tears as smiles.
Tell stories about the animal.
Create a slide show from pictures.
Show your child how to choose music to put with the slide show.
They can choose music that represents how they feel about losing the animal or music that embodies the way the animal made others feel.
Closure just feels good.
It helps us see that there can be an end.
Whether you are cremating or burying your pet, find a place (your yard, a path you all enjoy, garden, etc) where you can create a little memorial.
You can bury the pet, get a little grave marker, or have the children paint rocks to mark the grave, and say good-bye.
Losing a pet feels sad and bleak.
Teach your children resilience skills to help them find hope.
Help them accept what they cannot change.
It is really hard to move from a place of incredible sadness if they are still working in their mind how it could have happened differently.
It is not their fault.
Sometimes awful things happen.
There is not always someone or something to blame.
Create a sense of support and safety.
Make sure your children know that although they have lost their dear friend, they have the love, support, and understanding of their family.
Look for positive emotions.
Start small. Go for walks, what do you find that is lovely? What are you enjoying in your world that day?
Allow the pet to “live” on.
That pet always has a place in the family, your child can always bring them into the conversation.
“Daisy would love this path!”
This creates normalcy around the pet being gone, but also around the child being able to talk about their friend in a lovely way.
One of the hardest things to remember when we get busy as adults, is our children feel differently than we do.
We, too, are devastated by the loss.
As “grown ups” we have developed more skills in our tool boxes to build our own resilience.
Grief and pain are not linear.
Your child may not seem to grieve the loss, need to have closure, play and laugh one day and be done with the “whole thing.”
Then you find them in their room one day sad and weepy, they may not even know why.
Be patient an supportive and try to help them identify their feelings.
Let their feelings, whatever they are, be okay to have.
Some children may feel guilty that they are not stricken with pain like their siblings.
Everyone feels differently, for various reasons, and that is okay.
Your child will be at a loss, so it may seem a horrible time to teach them.
However, right now they need resilience tools.
Help them build these skills.
An article comes out December 11 on teaching your children to be resilient at home and activities you can do.
In the meantime, foster emotional intelligence and model resilience.
I like bringing you activities you can do in your home to make these concepts real.
October 23 the article will be emotional learning activities you can do at home.
Ways to model resilience in your home:
Identify and name your emotions, help your child do the same.
Encourage calming and self-soothing activities like deep breathing.
Acknowledge strong emotions and find a healthy way to let them out, like exercise, family walks may be a new tradition.
Cultivate joy and hope, look for the positive and de-emphasize the negative.
Recognize change, be aware of the many transitions in life and accept them.
Losing a pet can be an emotional and devastating experience for a child. It is important to acknowledge their feelings, offer comfort and support, and help them understand what has happened.
By providing a safe and loving environment, we can help our children build resilience and smile while remembering the good memories.
Eventually, they will remember their pet eight fondness and love instead of with sadness.