One of the most important pieces of advice that we give to parents is to recognize that no matter how small your child’s pet was, they have viewed their pet as their best friend and companion. As adults, it can be difficult for us to relate to this type of relationship with a hermit crab or fish, but having empathy towards your child and their feelings of loss are very important.
As parents, we often try our best to protect our children from having sad feelings, but this must be handled delicately when it comes to a pet’s passing. Few things are as damaging to a child as when they are having strong feelings and then told or made to feel that their feelings and emotions are wrong or even inappropriate because of the ‘size’ of their pet. This can cause emotional damage – showing or teaching them that feelings are something that should be hidden. Potentially leading to them not being able to properly express themselves emotionally as adults. Having a pet pass away is very serious, especially for a child, and needs to be treated as a serious matter when talking to your children about it.
The loss of a pet is usually a child’s first experience with death. They will experience grief differently based on their age and intellectual understanding of death. Your children will express their grief differently than adults, and you should not expect individual children to cope in the same ways either. Talk with each child individually based on their emotional ability to understand what is happening. With younger children, expect that their grief will come in waves, and vary in intensity. Their attention spans are shorter and they have fewer coping mechanisms for handling their grief.
Children may not know how to properly express their feelings and grief. You should look for signs of them not being their normal selves, or being uninterested in things they used to enjoy. For your older children, this can be especially important to pick up on. You may notice that they have a sudden disinterest in school or other obligations. These should be talked through with them to get to the root of the issue. This behavior may have previously resulted in some type of reprimanding, but it is important to recognize it as a potential result of their experiencing grief and not knowing how to process it. Children have had less experience with loss in their lives, and therefore have less developed coping mechanisms. They do have the capacity to grieve just as deeply as adults, however their ways of expressing that grief can be much different. There can be a tendency to lose control of their emotions and act out as opposed to speaking with you about how they feel. Again, it is important not to punish them, and to recognize these outbursts as an inability to cope with and properly process their grief.
The biggest takeaway from this article should be an understanding that big or small, fluffy or feathered spotted or striped, your child’s pet meant the world to them. To them, their pet’s passing can seem like a loss of their world. They will likely feel as such, and not know or be able to properly process their grief – This is where your guidance is most important. Every child is unique, and their way of coping and handling grief will be different also. Be patient and slowly help them to talk through how they are feeling. It can takes weeks, or even months, for their sad emotions to pass, and may take many talks for them to fully work through the grieving process.
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