Helping Your Child Through the Loss of a Pet
Our pets start off as friends, then become part of our family, and a huge part of our lives. Whether you have a dog, cat, bird, rabbit or any other sweet soul, we love them unconditionally. And when they leave us, we feel the immense pain. It’s hard enough for adults to deal with this tremendous loss, but how can you help your child through the loss of a pet?
A lot of it starts with understanding the bond many humans have with animals.
“For many children, animals represent a source of unconditional love. In fact, studies show that having a pet can positively impact mental health, regardless of age,” Anisha Patel-Dunn, DO, psychiatrist and chief medical officer at LifeStance Health, explained. “Children may also feel a sense of closeness and comfort with their pet which supports feelings of wellbeing and reduces anxiety, not unlike the sense of social support they receive from friends and family members.”
Pets also help children and adults stay focused.
“Another great benefit of having animals is that they exude the concept of mindfulness, as they help keep people in the present moment, which can be another very helpful tool for coping with anxiety,” Patel-Dunn said.
Helping Your Child Through the Loss of a Pet: The Feeling of Grief
Do children experience grief the same way adults do? It really depends. Depending on their developmental stage, children may struggle to understand the permanence of death, but Patel-Dunn encourages parents to have age-appropriate conversations about grief and loss to help their child understand the situation.
“Just as with adults, children will have their own unique ways that they express their grief, and it’s very important to take their lead. While these may be challenging conversations, the grieving process is an important part of processing and honoring a loss,” she explained.
Tips For Helping Your Child Through the Loss of a Pet
Sadly, there may come a time when your family has to cope with losing your beloved pet. Dr. Patel-Dunn shared a few tips parents can use to help their children through this difficult time:
- Check in regularly: Loss and grief can be difficult topics, and it’s important that your child knows you’re there to support them with any emotions they may be experiencing. Let them know that whenever they’re ready, you’re always here to listen and support them.
- Find ways to honor their loss: Rituals can be an important part of the grieving process. You can ask your child how they’d like to honor their pet and help them plan it.
- Encourage creative outlets: Some children might feel more comfortable expressing their emotions through creative mediums, like art or dance. Not only are these great ways for them to process challenging emotions, but they are also easy activities to do as a family.
- Talk about their favorite memories: Reflecting on your child’s favorite memories with their pet can be a great way to honor and celebrate the love and happiness their pet brought them. You can also record these stories along with favorite photos in a journal, so your family can look back at these fond memories when your child feels sad or misses their pet.
If there comes a time when you and your family feel ready to bring another pet into your home, there are many organizations in Staten Island and nearby that can help. These organizations rescue homeless and abandoned pets of all kinds who are each in need of a permanent home. After all, it’s been said that there is no better way to honor a late pet than by giving a loving home to one who’s in need.
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