Children and Grieving – Four Ways You Can Help Your Child Heal

Most often we have pets in our lives before we have children. When children join our family, there is often a transition that takes place on everyone’s part; parents, pets and children. As the family grows together, children become attached to their furry brother or sister with the sense of normalcy to have them in their lives.

When a pet passes away, this can create a time of uncertainty of your child processing their first experience of death as well as you trying to heal and help your child as well.

Let’s discuss some ways that you can help your children with the grieving process.

First Loss
Quite often, this will be your child’s first experience at loss.  They will be asking questions as well as trying to understand why Fluffy is no longer there with them.

It’s important to remember that a child’s mind works differently than an adult’s and they will take things in bit by bit.  You may find that they are there and present with you one moment and the next, they are off playing with their toys.  You might ask yourself if they are really okay.

Children will bounce from sadness to playfulness and back and forth often.  Coleen Ellis of Two Hearts Pet Loss Center explains this by saying ‘Children will grieve in “dosing” stages’.  Therefore, it’s helpful to give your child permission to feel and process things and then to play and have fun if they wish to.

Kimberly Glackin – Psychologist at MCC-Blue River

I had the honour of receiving Pet Loss Companioning certification training from Coleen Ellis of Two Heart Pet Loss Center and she shared with us about a woman named Kimberly Glackin.  I learned that Kimberly shares about children being very capable of dealing with death and want to know more about it.  She explains that what stops them, however, is that adults offer vague answers or avoid the subject altogether.

My reasoning for this above fact from Kimberly is because as parents, we want to protect our children and feel that if we give vague answers, we are helping them.  My take away is also that because we are grieving ourselves, we don’t know what to say or how to say it.  This is normal and there are answers to help you move forward.

Kimberly also states the following:  “Children want to talk about it (death).  They want to ask questions about it, and they want adults to answer their questions honestly.  In the absence of any real answers, children will respond with self-blame and will use their very creative imaginations to conjure up some very frightening explanations for the confusion they are having.  Children should be encouraged to ask questions about death.  Let them feel free to ask any questions they have without feat that they will be criticized, judged or punished”.

Kitty Hands

4 Steps You Can Use To Help Your Children Heal 

1)  Words: Use correct words when explaining death.  Instead of saying “put to sleep”, use the word “euthanasia”.  Explain the meaning of it being “It’s a special drug that will stop life” or “It’s a special medicine that will take away the pain and to stop the breathing.

2)  Honesty: Be honest, don’t lie.  If your beloved furry family member has died, be honest.  Many times we were told as a child that our pet went to live somewhere on a farm with Aunt Helen and Uncle Joe. Honesty is key here and your child wants to know the truth.  When we lie to protect our children, they pick up on it on some level.  Children are very intuitive and sensitive.  Although they will believe you, they will also not feel quite right about it.

If your pet was in an accident, tell your child that.  If they died of old age, tell them that too.  Be honest with your children.

3)  Say Goodbye: Let your children say goodbye.  Unless your pet is in bad condition (from an accident for example), allow your children to see their pet, touch them, and say their goodbyes.  Some children will want to hold their pet or hug them.  This is okay.  This helps them in understanding what death is about.

4)  Memorial: Having a funeral or memorial time for your beloved pet can be a powerful way to bring you together as a family and also help your child heal.  By doing this, you are not only helping them, you are helping yourself in healing and this is a good thing.  When you help yourself, you can help your children. 

This memorial tribute doesn’t have to be anything large or extremely special nor cost a lot of money. It is a time dedicated to your pet and remembrance of him/her.  Each person can say something or bring something to show their respect and gratitude.  You may wish to say a few words and plant a flower or place flowers over where your pets ashes are or where she/he is buried. There are many beautiful ways you can honour your pet and heal together as a family.

Closing Thoughts:

Children want to know what is happening.  They will be searching for answers and will pick up on your body language and cues.  If you are sad, let them know you are so they understand that mommy and daddy are going through this too.

When you help yourself in healing, you can then help your children heal as well.  Pets leave our hearts saddened when it’s their time to pass.  I invite you to make this time the best it can be with tools of honour and tribute by coming together as a family.

If your pet could talk, would they tell you that’s what they would want?  In most cases, I think the answer is a huge YES.

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