Coping with grief after your dog is gone: Talking with your children

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Children should be taught from an early age the impermanence of life.

How To Explain The Loss Of A Pet To Your Children

As parents you may feel uncomfortable talking about death to your kids. You may think that silence will spare your children some of the pain and sadness. But, this is wrong. The whole family needs to talk freely together, even if through tears. Kids develop deep bonds to their pets. Once their best friend is gone they need to be allowed personal grief and closure.

The loss of a pet is often your child’s first need to confront the reality of death.

We often do not realize how traumatic death is to a child because children do not express their emotions well. It is human nature to attempt to shield our children from grief. But this is rarely necessary because children, from an early age, begin to understand the concept of irretrievable loss and death.

A healthy understanding of death allows a child to experience the pain of loss and to express his or her feelings. A great deal of patience, hugs and kisses are required when explaining death to a small child. We need to give our children permission to express themselves and work through their grief – not burry it. Do not leave your children with the impression that anything they did was responsible for the loss of your pet.

Children younger than 5 years of age

Children younger than five years of age typically have no understanding of death. They think of it as extended sleep from which a pet will awake. Explain to these young children that the natural state of the World is such that pets die and do not return. Reassure them that nothing that was their fault caused the pets death.

Children 6 and 7 years of age

Six and seven year old children have a limited understanding of death. They too may consider the pet to be sleeping or living somewhere in an underground home. They may expect the pet to eventually return and for death to be a temporary state of affairs. They may worry about their own mortality and need reassurance from you that they will not also die soon. They may temporarily lose their toilet training, bladder control, eating and sleeping patterns. Talking thing out with them is the best cure for these problems. A child needs to express his or her feelings and concerns. This process may take a month or two. Many short discussions are generally more productive than one or two prolonged sessions.

Your child may wish to have a funeral for the pet. Such a ceremony is a fitting way to say goodbye. Don’t rush out and purchase a new pet to ease the grief. Allow your children a reasonable time to accept the loss.

Children 8 and older

Children eight and older generally understand the permanence of death. Sometime the loss of a pet triggers a concern about the possible death of their parents. They may become curious about death and its implications and you should be ready to engage them in frank and honest discussions about the subject. These children will experience many of the stages of grief that you experience. They may have transient problems concentrating in school and relapse to more juvenile behaviors. Many enter a period of clinginess that lasts a few weeks.

Teenagers

Teenage children react similarly to adults. Denial is more common in this age group as are stoniness, numbness and lack of emotional display. It is often years after the loss before these adolescents feel good about discussing their attachments to their lost pet.

 

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