This blog post is especially timely for me given the fact that our family lost our beloved golden retriever, (the distinguished looking dog on the right in the photo) “Waldo,” this month.
Waldo had been a part of our family for 14 years. He taught my husband and I how to be consistent and set boundaries in our household. He kept watch over our 13 year-old son, sleeping next to him every night. He taught our young golden doodle (“Henry:” in the middle of the picture) the doggy-ways of our house. Waldo lived a life that reminded us to slow down and enjoy the little things-like an evening walk, or a delicious bone. I guess the rest of us never really got the bone thing, but you get the picture.
The Loss of A Pet Has An Especially Large Impact On Kids
Dealing with the loss of a pet can be difficult for everyone, but can have an especially large impact on children. They may have not experienced loss in life yet. Their bond with a family pet may be even more intense than their bonds with some of their human relatives. They may not remember a time in their life when the pet wasn’t a part of the family. Here’s how to help your child deal with their loss:
Allow them to talk about their pet:Discuss good times, funny memories, and the chaos that the animal brought to the home. Just like adults, children need the opportunity to process the memories of a loved one who has died.
Keep A Token: Allow your child to keep a reminder of your animal. This could be a collar, a favorite toy, or a picture. Many people hold a service for the lost pet and create a spot to bury the remains, spread the ashes, or plant a plant as a memorial. Keeping tangible items that honor a pet can be therapeutic.
Give extra hugs, or give extra space: Be aware of how your child handles emotions. Other feelings besides sadness may be present: Anger, loneliness, and guilt may all make appearances. Provide comfort and hugs if your child seems to be extra needy. Other times your child may seem more irritable and may need space. Honor this too. He or She may be losing sleep, thinking about their loss, or sleeping less deeply if their pet was a part of their nighttime routine.
Be aware of the Routine Change:Much of the time, kids are responsible for the daily needs of pets and so they are constantly reminded of the loss by the change in their responsibilities (this may be the only time they aren’t complaining about dog poop!). Be cognizant of reminders that may be impacting your child.
Don’t hide your feelings:Showing how you feel and talking about it openly sets an example for your kids. As adults, we sometimes feel like we need to put on a “good face” for our children during trying times. It’s OK for them to see us cry or express sadness. You can also share stories about your own family pets from when you were young and how you handled those losses.
Pets can be a great way to learn the important lessons of responsibility, patience, perseverance, unconditional love, and the circle of life.
Our family was honored to have Waldo grow with our boys and his legacy is forever noted in his contributions to the development of our family. He loved chasing rabbits in the parks and greenbelts near our home and hopefully he is now successfully chasing those bunnies that he was never able to catch while living with us, here on earth 🙂