Dealing with Death: Pet Loss and Your Child
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We've all seen the comedy shows where "Wilbur" the pet goldfish is found floating upside down in his bowl, or "Sneakers" the pet turtle dies and mom or dad run down to the nearest pet store to replace him before little Timmy finds out. Or there will be a big "pet funeral" with lots of eye-rolling and sarcasm from the television "siblings."
But how do you help a child coping with pet death when it happens in real life?
Death is a very serious subject to most children, and the death of a pet, no matter how inconsequential it might seem to your or your older children, can be a very big deal to the pet's owner. In fact, dealing with death on any level can raise some big questions -- and fears -- in young children.
So how do you help your child cope with the death of a pet and answer the questions he or she may have?
First of all, don't try to secretly replace the animal. Death is a natural part of life. Yes, it's very sad, and your child will grieve, but letting them go through the process is better than hiding it or covering it up.
Next, let your child ask any questions he or she might have about death, and answer honestly (according to your personal beliefs), but keep it simple and on a level that he or she can understand.
Allow your child to say good-bye to the pet in the way that is most appropriate for them. If they want a funeral, then by all means, let them have it. Let them be responsible for planning it, and offer to help, but don't take over. If you've got a picture of the pet put it into a frame and let them keep it by their bed or on a desk.
The death of a pet often brings up questions about other people in the child's life dying -- including you. Do your best to reassure your child that you're not going to die. Listen for questions or actions that show your child is still worried or afraid, and again, provide reassurance.
Don't try to replace the dead pet right away. Because no parent likes to see their child hurt or sad, parents will often offer to get a new pet to replace dead pet right away. Your child needs time to grieve, and experience the loss. Replacing a dead pet right away can send a message that your child's feelings of sadness, regret and loneliness aren't of value or that the pet wasn't important. Instead, allow your child to go through the healing process. He or she will tell you when they're ready to get a new pet.
Giving your child time to deal, and honoring their feelings of loss and sadness at the death of a pet will help your child learn more about love and life. Helping your child in dealing with death (of a pet or otherwise) gives them power skills for dealing later on in life.
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