Contributed by Emily Ridgewell
One of the reasons we, as parents, opt to bring a pet into our family unit is to teach children the importance of being responsible when it comes to caring for another life. In this same light, it’s also an insightful way of educating children about the circle of life.
Some of the most popular children's movies and books include an element of loss–Bambi, Dumbo, Old Yeller, The Lion King, etc.–but real life is often much different from what’s played out in fiction.
While these childhood favorites are often an introduction to dealing with the pain, separation, anxiety and grief associated with this type of loss, there are things we can do as parents to make it more “real” for our kids.
Here are a pair of some “do’s and don’ts” to help explain this to our children and assist them with working through this type of grief:
DO - Let them experience this on pain on their own terms. You may be aware of the “five stages of grief,” but these steps don’t go in any particular order, especially when it comes to kids. A child might start off with acceptance and end with anger, they may bargain at first before they come to deny the fact altogether.
DON’T - Ignore behaviors that could become problematic, like acting out at school or home. If you see signs of depression or self-destructive behaviors, if they're not eating or sleeping normally, don't hesitate to seek help.
DOUBLE DON’T - Don’t rush into getting a replacement pet in an attempt to ease their suffering. For example, let’s say you had a particular breed of dog that has certain characteristics, looks and behavior patterns. While it may fill a temporary void, a child may resent this canine for not being exactly (or even partially) like the beloved pet they just lost.
DO - Let them become an important part of the process of letting them go. Whether it’s a simple ceremony, putting together a picture album, praying or laying them to rest, whatever it takes to make them be a part of this time. Allow children to be part of the euthanasia process, if they want to, and let them choose how they'd like to memorialize their pet.
DOUBLE DO - After the initial shock of the loss has passed, make an attempt in the best, most lovable way possible to bring back the memories of love, laughter and the wonderful times we spent together as a family. Remind our children that during these times we had together, we were at our best and gave this little fur baby the most loving life humanly possible.
ASPCA National Pet Loss Hotline: 877-GRIEF-10
IAMS Pet Loss Support Hotline: 1-888-332-7738
Emily Ridgewell is an arts professional and a pet enthusiast from sunny LA. Emily has a creative energy and an aesthetic sense of living, where everything beautiful is worth sharing. She loves her Yorkie Olivia and writes original and fun articles on ways to learn and improve your pet-best friend’s life. She finds exciting new things to explore and experience! Don’t forget to connect with her on Twitter: @ridgewell_j
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