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, how children experience grief may be shown in many different ways. Your child views 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 pet fish, but having empathy towards your child and their feelings of loss are very important. Their feelings needs to be validated.
Emotions are not wrong
As parents, we protect our children from having sad feelings. Grief must be handled delicately when it comes to a pet’s passing away. It is damaging to a child when told or made to feel their feelings and emotions are wrong or inappropriate, because of the ‘size’ of their pet.
This can cause emotional damage. It shows that feelings are something that should be hidden. This can potentially cause the inability 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. Also, how children experience grief is different from one child to another.
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.
Look for signs of grief
Children may not know how to properly express their feelings and grief. Look for signs such as:
- Not being their normal selves
- A lack of interest in things they used to enjoy.
- For your older children this can be especially important to pick up on.
- A sudden disinterest in school or other obligations.
- Talk to them. Allow safe communication.
This behavior may have previously resulted in some type of reprimanding. It is important, however, to recognize it as a potential result of their 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. 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. Do not punish them, but recognize these outbursts as an inability to cope with and properly process their grief.
Validate how children experience grief
The biggest takeaway from this article is that your child’s pet meant the world to them. Every life matters — no matter how big or small, fluffy or feathered spotted or striped. A pet’s death is a loss to a child. Children do not know how to properly process grief.
- Your guidance is important.
- Allow your child to feel their emotions and do not shame their behavior.
- Listen intently.
- Do not interrupt.
- Let them cry.
- Encourage boys to cry. Tell them it is okay to cry. Do not shame crying in boys.
- Encourage them to express their grief through art. (Draw a picture of their pet or other outlet).
- Honor their pet with a backyard memorial service. Plant a flower in the pet’s honor.
- Never ever flush a pet fish down the toilet. This is traumatizing and teaches a lack of care of a life. It is toxic to natural environments. Authorities advise against it. (We do have a little pet fish casket for burial — no one else has such a product. Bury a fish – don’t flush it. More information on our FishPod here: PawPods FishPod
Every child is unique and their way of coping and handling grief will be different. 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. It can take many talks for them to fully work through the grieving process.
More information and our pet caskets
Our Pet Loss Blog contains other helpful articles. Our complete line of pet caskets exist for tiny pets to cats and dogs. Many parents find it helpful to have one on hand in advance for a small pet who doesn’t live as long of a life. See our Shop for more information and pricing.
Please leave a comment to let us know what you thought of this article. Are there other articles you’d like to see?
We appreciate the sharing of our articles to help other kids and parents. The more pet owners that we can reach, the closer we can get to the goal of our company and pet loss blog: To make the worst day in a pet owner’s life a little bit easier to manage.
Remember — how children experience grief is different for each child.