Old Enough to Love…Old Enough to Grieve

oldenoughtogrieveAs Dr. Alan Wolfelt, noted author and grief psychologist states, “if a child is old enough to love, then they are old enough to grieve.” Many times the loss of a beloved pet is a child’s first experience with death. While it can be painful, it is also an opportunity for parents to teach children about how to deal with death in an emotionally healthy manner.Through their parents’ example, children can learn how to grieve while appreciating the life of a beautiful creature, and also how to be compassionate to others who have been touched by death.

Though the impulse may be to shield a child from mortal realities, honesty is important. Avoid euphemisms like “put to sleep” or saying that the pet has gone to live somewhere “in the country.” Small children may come to associate sleep with dying, and fibbing about a pet “going away” not only undermines a child’s trust, but also robs children of the opportunity to properly reflect on how much their animal companion meant to them. Gently make it clear that the pet will not be coming back, but that the animal is free of pain.

Then encourage children to express their grief as part of the healing process. Don’t tell a child to “be strong.” As a family, share happy recollections of the pet and allow the tears to flow. As much as possible, make the child a part of family decisions concerning how the loss will be handled. Of course, a pet’s death also calls for plenty of hugs and reassurance. You might also want to share news of the pet’s death with your child’s teachers, coaches or the parents of your child’s friends so that they too can be understanding.

As with the loss of a human loved one, ritualized responses to death can also be of comfort. Providing a child an opportunity to “say goodbye” to their beloved companion can be very important to their well-being. Veterinary Technician, a veterinary trade publication, offers suggestions as to how a child might honor the memory of a pet:

  • Have the child write a letter to the pet, expressing his or
    her feelings.
  • Conduct a proper burial or cremation.
  • Place a marker with a nameplate or inscription near the
    pet’s grave.
  • Put the pet’s ashes in a potted plant, urn or under a favorite tree.
  • Convert a favorite photo of the pet into a framed portrait.
  • Keep the pet’s identification tags on a key ring, necklace or charm bracelet.
  • Honor the pet by volunteering at a local humane shelter.
  • Make a donation in the pet’s name to a organization such as an animal rescue center or an animal hospital.

By sharing grief, the loving bonds between parent and child are strengthened, and children come to recognize their families as a place of solace in a time of sadness.

Leave a Reply

Proudly serving · St. Petersburg · Tierra Verde · Gulfport · South Pasadena · St. Pete Beach · Pinellas Park · Kenneth City · Largo · Seminole · Clearwater · Madeira Beach · Redington Beach · Palm Harbor · Dunedin · Clearwater Beach · Tarpon Springs