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Children & Grief

How does a child deal with the death of a pet?
As a Parent, how can I help?

As parents and now grandparents we felt it would be nice to share our experiences of our own children and grandchildren on the death of their pets. It is very surprising how, if you are open and honest with children, they understand and accept the finality of death, although they are very upset for a few days they are able to grieve and come to terms with the loss and then bounce back, probably a lot quicker than we do as adults.

One piece of advice which we have found to be invaluable at such a difficult time is to discuss the situation with the child. As a pet becomes older or ill but above all be honest and open, explaining that if a pet is very ill, they would not wish their pet to suffer and that sometimes very hard decisions have to be made, allowing them to discuss their feelings and come to terms with the fact that they will not always have their pet around, but remind them that their memories are very precious.

Young children who have never experienced death may at first find it difficult to accept the loss of a pet, sometimes it is helpful for them to say "goodbye" after the animal has died so that they can see that their pet is peaceful. It is quite normal for children to go through a wide range of emotions following the death of their pet, friend and companion, this may range from sadness to anger before they accept their loss.

Anger and frustration may be directed at you at Parents, this can be painful and difficult to deal with especially if you are also grieving the loss. Try to answer their questions simply and honestly as this will help them come to terms with the death which is a very important part of the grieving process.

Children can become deeply attached to a pet very quickly regardless of whether it is a stick insect, cat, rabbit, fish or dog, their pet is always there to tell their inner thoughts, hopes and prayers.

Following the death of a pet the question of burial or cremation will need to be discussed, when talking to children do remember the practicalities of burying a pet in your garden, although you can allow the child to be involved by helping to dig the hole, make a grave marker and perhaps carrying out a little "goodbye" ceremony, depending upon how attached the child was to the pet there could be problems later if you decide to move house or build over the grave.

Of course the alternative to burial is cremation, it is still possible to allow the child to take part in the procedure by taking the pet to the crematorium, saying "goodbye" in the chapel of rest, selecting an urn or casket in which to keep the ashes and then choosing a favourite spot. Often the solution is to take a garden planter where the casket can be buried, making a small garden on top, this planter can then be taken with you if you move house at any time. Most children accept the idea of cremation quite readily.

Whatever you decide do not make assumptions about what your child wants, allow them to be involved in the decision making and give them time to say "goodbye" in their own way, they may want to write a letter or put a photograph or toy with their pet.

A word of warning, it is not in your child's best interest to substitute a new hamster or pet if one dies when your child is not around. Don't assume you will not be found out,children are very observant.By replacing a pet without telling your child the truth,they may think their feelings for their pet are not seen by you the Parents,and they could resent this.