Children and Pet Loss

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The death of a much loved family pet can be a tough time for children and parents. Children around two or three years of age have little concept of death and may simply view it as a form of permanent sleep. Children aged between four and six years often have more difficulty in accepting death as being permanent and tend to ask lots of questions about death.

How children handle the grief can depend on the child’s age, the circumstances of the pet’s passing and the way in which the family communicates on the event. An honest but gentle account of the pet’s passing is recommended. Sometimes, little white lies designed to protect children from the harsh realities end up creating greater confusion and sadness in the long run.

Recommended for children is a picture book titled Lifetimes by Bryan Mellonie, reprinted by Bantam books in 2005. Very simply, with few words, this book explains that there is a beginning and an end. In the middle is life. Beginnings and endings are going on around us all the time, for plants, animals and humans too. The book explains death in a way that is honest and easily understood by children.

In coping with the loss of a pet, it is important as a parent to be open, honest and accepting of sadness and grief. Encourage children to show their feelings by talking, drawing and writing freely about their departed pet. Organise a ‘service’ or memorial to assist with the process of saying goodbye. Pet loss can be confusing and emotional for both children and adults. Society in general does not give bereaved pet owners "permission" to mourn openly however the associated grief is normal and necessary. Go with it.


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