How to Help Your Child Through Pet Loss

My first babies were fur babies. I am now a Mom to 3 tiny humans (well two are not so tiny anymore) and at the moment one black lab. It’s been a really rough month in our household as we had to say goodbye to our 12 yr old yellow lab, Buddy. He took a piece of our hearts with him to dog heaven. This marks the first time since 2004 that my husband and I have been an only one dog household. 2 dogs is our norm and at times we’ve had 3 kids and 3 dogs. That’s when friends and family confirmed we had lost our minds. 😉

So, if you’ve done the math, you probably guessed that we’ve lost a few dogs in our marriage. To date, we’ve lost 3. And with each loss, we grieved alongside our kids. No matter how you lose your dog, it just plain sucks. If your family is experiencing this grief right now, I pray my words help bring some guidance to get you through.

You are never prepared for loss of life. No matter what type of life. And as parents, we have the added responsibility of guiding our children through this process while we grieve at the same time. Newsflash: parenting is hard.

First and foremost, I’m not sure any of us feel we are doing this parenting thing correctly 100% of the time. And certainly when it comes to losing a pet, we doubt our skills more than usual. So, the first order of business is to give yourself grace during this very difficult time. If you are reading this post, it is because you want to do your best. You want to help your child. You want to be the support they need. That desire stems from love and there’s no better starting place than that. Give yourself grace. You are a good parent.

Now to the grieving…. As if losing a pet isn’t cruel enough, sharing that loss with your child, adds fuel to the fire. You are hurting. Your heart breaks. A piece of your heart is missing. And your child is experiencing all of this as well. So, you hurt not only for the loss of your beloved pet, but you hurt for your child. And you feel that hurt to the deepest part of your core.

What you may not realize is that helping your child through this grief, will also help you. Here are some tips to help your child through this grieving process:

  • Have a BEFORE talk: If you have the privilege of time, you can talk to your child before the actual loss. You can talk to them about the aging process, about selfless love and about what it might feel like when their best bud is not around anymore. Kids do much better when they know what to expect. While we can’t predict how everything will take place, having a general conversation helps prepare them a bit for the uncertainty of what’s to come. During our before talk we let each child choose something special they want to do for our pet. For example, we’ve treated them to hamburgers, picked other kinds of special treats, and had extra snuggle time as a something special.
  • Give them options: Depending on the age and maturity level of your child, you can ask them if they want to be a part of the process and for ideas on how to say goodbye. For each of our 3 kids, they each played a different role with each dog. For some they wanted to give hugs and kisses and say good bye only once and before the passing. Others wanted to be there for every last second and give hugs and kisses before, during and after. We let them choose and we let them change their mind as many times as they wanted.
  • Read stories: Reading stories together often comforts kids. This situation is no different. There are a number of reading resources available on helping children through pet loss. Two of my favorite books on this topic are The Rainbow Bridge: A Visit to a Pet Paradise and Dog Heaven.
  • Create a memorial: Memorials were created for a reason. They bring comfort, peace and a remembrance for those left behind. There are virtual memorials available, you could create a memorial on your social media, you could create a physical memorial somewhere in your yard or around your home, or there are many options for pet memorials you may purchase. Allow your child to have say in the design and wording. I put together a small 4×6 photo album for each child as a memorial. Going through all the pictures from all the years with our sweet pup was difficult but allowed me to grieve the loss.
  • Write or Draw: Have your child write a letter to their beloved pet. For younger children, have them draw a picture for their pet. Maybe combine these two and create a fully illustrated story about your sweet companion.
  • Just be there: Talk when they want to talk. Listen when they want you to listen. Cry when they want to cry. Sit in silence when they want to sit in silence. I’ve done all of the above.

While they take a little piece of our hearts with them when they go, we are so blessed to have pets in our lives. Blessed with their unconditional love. The lessons learned through pet ownership and a pet’s love are priceless. Through the loss of a pet, we have an opportunity to teach our children about selfless love, the aging process, loss, grief, honoring memories and how to recognize true blessings.

My heart is with those going through this difficult time.

xo, Christy

A final note: I cannot recommend the services of Lap of Love enough. The Lap of Love Veterinarians are angels. They provide peaceful euthanasia services in your home to allow your fur baby to pass in the comfort of their home surrounded by those they love. They also have a variety of resources available to help pet owners during this very difficult time.

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