It’s no secret that pets can up the ante when it comes to living a happy and healthy life. Studies have shown that that caring for animals improves the lives of humans in a number of ways. It gives us a sense of confidence and fulfillment, for one thing. But of course, the greater benefit is that animals come with their own unique personality quirks that quickly make them members of the family. And a dog that jumps up, excited to see you each time you walk in the door, or a cat that climbs onto your lap with a rumbling purr lets you know that the love you feel is mutual. Unfortunately, most pets simply don’t enjoy the same longevity as humans, which means that eventually your family will have to face the hardship of losing a pet. And this can be especially hard on children, who may not understand the concept of death, or at least may not have experienced such a loss yet. So here are just a few ways to help your kids cope with the loss of a beloved pet.
Some people think that running out and getting a new pet to replace the one that is gone will help kids to get over the loss more quickly. But this probably isn’t the best idea. For one thing, it could prompt an unintended backlash as kids see the new dog, cat, or bird as an interloper trying to take the place of their recently deceased pet. They may resent the fact that the new animal is around while their loved one is gone. And if there are behavioral issues with a new puppy or kitten the initial feelings of dislike may only deepen. It’s probably best to avoid the Band-Aid treatment and opt instead to deal with the wounds to ensure that they heal properly.
You can start by sitting down to talk about what has happened. When you consider how difficult it is for adults to deal with feelings of loss you can imagine that it is even harder for kids, many of whom have not yet had a chance to develop coping mechanisms. So if you want to help your kids overcome their grief you need to begin by discussing how everyone feels about the loss. Take the time to talk about why you loved your pet and what it will mean to move forward without him. When kids see a structured future ahead they can at least reduce their anxiety and begin to accept the situation, so making a plan is essential.
To that end you might want to hold some kind of funeral or memorial for your pet. In my family we buried dead pets in the flower garden behind the shed in the backyard. The new owners of my childhood home probably didn’t have to dig too deep to discover two guinea pigs and a cat in shoe boxes beneath the gladiolas. The idea is to give your kids a chance to say goodbye so that they can begin to move on. There will be plenty of time for new pets later on when everyone has recovered from the shock of loss. And whether your cat contracted parasites, you found out the hard way that dogs and chocolate don’t mix, or your elderly pet simply succumbed to old age, you need to let your kids know that their pet has gone to a better place and that it’s okay to mourn. This is the best way to cope with loss and start the healing process.