By Dr. Bethany Hsia, Co-founder of CodaPet, a petcare startup that recently launched in Kansas City.
Pets are often considered to be part of the family, and the loss of a pet can be particularly difficult for children. The death of a pet can be a child’s first experience with grief and loss, and it can be hard for them to understand and cope with their feelings. As a parent or caregiver, you are uniquely positioned to support them through this confusing and challenging time.
The Emotional Impact of Pet Loss on Children
The loss of a pet can have a profound emotional impact on children. For many children, pets are more than just animals; they are companions, playmates, and sources of comfort and constancy. Losing a pet can leave children feeling lonely, confused, and like their world lacks stability.
Children may also feel guilty or responsible for their pet’s death, even if it was due to natural causes. They may wonder if they could have done something differently to prevent it or blame themselves for not spending enough time with their pet.
In addition to these emotions, children may also experience physical symptoms such as loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, or stomachaches. It’s important to communicate with their healthcare provider to determine whether or not these symptoms are related to grief and how to best address them.
How to Support Children Through Pet Loss
It is important to acknowledge and validate children’s feelings when they lose a pet. Here are some tips to support them through their grief:
- Be Honest: It is important to be honest with children about what happened to their pet. Use age-appropriate language and answer their questions truthfully.
- Encourage Expression: Encourage children to express their feelings through talking, writing, drawing or other creative outlets. This can help them process their emotions and feel less alone in their grief.
- Memorialize the Pet: Creating a memorial can help children feel like they are honoring the memory of the departed pet. This could include planting a tree or flowers in the pet’s memory, creating a scrapbook or photo album, or holding a small ceremony. Some children find healing through raising funds for a local pet rescue or shelter in honor of their departed friend.
It is important to remember that grief is a process that doesn’t always move in a straight line. Children, like the rest of us, may need ongoing support as they navigate their feelings. Be patient and understanding, and seek professional help when necessary.