Losing a pet is a traumatic event at any age, but it is especially difficultfor children to understand. So much mystery lies beyond the realm of theliving, so much uncertainty, so many questions that just cannot be answeredconfidently and with assurance. Where does that leave us when trying toconsole a grieving child at the loss of their beloved pet?
For a child, losing a pet can cause as much emotional stress as losing someonein their immediate family. That furry companion is the one who greets themwhen they return home from school each day, who comforts with them when theyare sad, who plays with them when there is no one else to play with. Somechildren may class their pet as their best friend.
Depending on the age and maturity of the child, will determine their emotionalresponse to the loss.
Children who are between the age of two and three are said to have very littleunderstanding of death. They may believe that the pet has gone to sleep, andwill wake up soon. It is important to tell the child that the pet has died andthat it will not return.
Children between the ages of four, five and six have developed a senseconscience and may blame themselves for the death of their companion. They mayalso believe that the animal will return or that it is just sleeping. Thechild could ask multitude of questions surrounding the subject of death, whichthe parent should attempt to answer honestly.
Between the ages of seven, eight and nine death is a very real subject forthem; they may internalize their feelings and have anxieties about thefragility of their own life and the life of those they love. It is importantthat the family reassure the child and discuss openly any anxieties thatevolve from the child’s grief.
Children aged between ten and eleven have usually developed enoughunderstanding through life experience to see that death is part of the naturalprocess.
The child’s grief is displayed in a very similar way to the grieving adult.Which includes the five stages of grieving:
- Denial and isolation
As a parent or caregiver there are ways to comfort our child and make it alittle easier for them:
- Ask your child how they feel
- Validate their feelings
- Reassure them that they are not to blame
- Answer their questions honestly
- Tell their teacher of the loss
- Read them books on losing a pet
- Never tell them how they should feel
- Share your own beliefs around death
- Empathise and share your own feelings with your child
- Give the child options for the pets burial
Finally, and most importantly, be patient. The emotional processing of thislife event will take time and eventually it will become easier.
By Rachael Pilley
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