Pet Loss

Compassionate Veterinary Hospice - How to Help Your Child Grieve the Loss of a Pet

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Helping a Child Cope with Pet Loss

Children can experience grief as intensely as adults do; however, it tends to be more intermittently. They express grief differently depending on their level of development. A willingness to listen, honesty, and openness are the keys to supporting grieving children and teens. The skills that adults model as they cope with their own emotions facing end of life and after death are the skills children and teens learn to use for coping themselves as well.

Children experience disbelief, anger, depression, and guilt. They make attempts to rationalize the loss. They may have nightmares or difficulty sleeping, and may express anger toward siblings, playmates and parents. Children who are old enough to think and speak for themselves are capable and should be encouraged to make their own decisions about being present during the pet’s death or euthanasia, viewing the pet’s body, digging a grave, saying Goodbye, and participating in a memorial ceremony. The key to exposing children to a potentially frightening experience is preparation! To help your grieving child:

Babies 0 to 2 years old can feel when stress escalates but are not aware of the cause. They are best supported by physical closeness, time devoted to them, and maintaining routines.

Children 2 to 4 years old understand that pet loss is a significant family event. They frequently use “magical thinking” when they can’t quite comprehend what has happened. Death is not viewed as permanent by children under five. They are more relaxed and curious about death than at any other age.

Children 5 to 8 years old may still view death as reversible so it’s important to listen for their magical thinking. They may feel responsible for the death through thoughts, actions or wishes. They express feelings through behavior. Their cognitive ability to associate cause and effect is developing; there is some understanding of what death involves and this may result in a fear of death. They may personify the supernatural – sometimes in monster form – and are often fascinated by physical facts. Denial, constant questions, and feelings of guilt are common reactions so reassurance and a sense of security are of utmost importance.

Pre-adolescents and adolescents. Pre-adolescents are capable of periods of intense grief and can become preoccupied with a loss. Adolescents can be self-conscious and have strong emotional reactions, may hide their feelings and act them out in antisocial ways, and seek peer approval and acceptance. To help them cope with their emotions of sadness, anxiety, anger and guilt, parents may:

If you have any questions, concerns, or would like additional support...please contact Laurie Norris, Grief Support Counselor at (248)701-5799 or cvhgriefcounselor@gmail.com.

Sincerely,
The Team at Compassionate Veterinary Hospice

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