Children & Pet Loss: Helping young children cope with the loss of a pet
*Please note: As this is a difficult conversation to have, at the end of the blog series I will be providing a book list which will assist you in talking with your child(ren).
Birth to 2 years
It has been shown through studies that an infant reacts to their surroundings. If the environment is filled with sadness and stress the infant may respond by:
· becoming difficult to comfort,
· having trouble sleeping or sleeping excessively
· clinging or not wanting to be held.
You can help your infant through this sad and stressful time by holding, rocking, touching, hugging as well as maintaining your normal daily routine.
2 to 5 years
Children at this stage are much more aware of their surroundings then we give them credit for. They are always watching, mimicking and taking cues from their caregivers. In short, if you are upset because your pet is sick and you are considering euthanization, most likely your children will take notice. It is important to speak with your children on what will happen to the pet and why.
As the above age group does not understand the finality of death, they may ask you:
· when is their pet returning?
· is their pet living somewhere else?
· is their pet only sleeping?
· when is their pet going to wake up?
· how is their pet going to find his/her way home?
It is common for many caregivers to use the term “put to sleep” rather than euthanize. This confuses the child, as well reinforces the belief that their pet is only asleep and will be returning home. It is important for them to understand that the pet is not asleep and will not be returning home. As mentioned in my previous blog, if your children come to you with questions, respond with honesty. A friendly reminder, all conversations should be age appropriate.
If your child(ren) begin exhibiting changes in their behaviour (some changes are listed below, it may be time to speak with a professional.
· more crying than usual
· easily frustration
· difficulty getting them to bed
· bed wetting, (are to name a few, you know your child(ren) best)
The joy of owning a pet goes hand-in-hand with the heartbreak of (eventually) losing one. Even though it is impossible to completely shield your child or children from the loss of a pet, you can help them cope with it.