Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Child's Grief

When I was seven years old I lost my grandmother and my adorable cat, Tiger within months of each other. Tiger died a couple months before Thanksgiving and my grandmother died, while I was walking her to our car, on Thanksgiving morning. I'm not sure which death upset me more. Even as a child I loved people and animals equally.

I was an extremely happy child and it was difficult for my parents to watch me struggle with my emotions as I tried to make sense of death. A close family friend once told me I was a different child during that time: quiet, sad and withdrawn. Upset from losing Tiger and my grandmother.

Watching children suffer emotionally is difficult. We want to say or do something to take away their pain but often times we're not sure what that something is. During my interview with Teresa Freeman, LIMHP, LMHP, NCC she offered the following advice on how to explain the death of a pet to a child.

How do you explain the death of a pet to a child and help them deal their emotions?

For many children, the loss of a pet can be their first real experience with death and they should not be sheltered from this experience as it can be a learning experience to teach children about death in a loving way. If children are overprotected and not involved in the experience, they may feel that they are in some way responsible for the death of the pet or they may feel that they have done something to cause the death.

Explain what has happened at a level that they can understand without distress. Be aware of the stages of child development and give information that is age appropriate. Answer questions from children honestly, avoid the use of euphemisms.

Find out from the children what they think has happened and the meaning it has for them and provide them feedback based on these ideas and feelings. Don’t trivialize or diminish their thoughts and feelings.

If possible, try to engage in discussions about pet loss before the actual event. If euthanasia is involved, include children in the discussion. Share and explain your thoughts and feelings, but keep the understanding at the children’s level. Children under eight years of age are not normally thought to benefit from being present at the procedure.

Remember you are a powerful role model for your children.

Here are a few suggestions for helping children adjust to the loss of a pet:

  • Hold a memorial ceremony for the pet that involves the children’s input.

  • Reminisce fondly with the children about the pet, if possible, use pictures.

  • Use children’s books that tell a story about pet loss.

  • Inform the children’s teachers about the loss and the effect it has had on them.

  • Communicate and respect the grieving process of each family member.

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