For many children, a pet can be a source of comfort and a supportive, uncritical friend, always available to listen. Pets often give children a valuable sense of self-worth because they will not judge or make children feel inadequate. Children frequently describe their pets as a best friend or sibling.
Reactions to grief
How a child responds to losing a pet really depends on the intensity of their bond, as well as the child's maturity and circumstances surrounding the loss. Children tend to show grief in spurts and for longer periods than adults. Children often show their grief in less direct ways than adults. One day they will seem fine and the next day they may show that they are feeling pain. Children may try to get closeness, care, information, reassurance and support from adults.
Even the most sensitive adult may feel uncomfortable discussing death, loss and grief with children. Parents often want to protect children from pain by shielding them from painful experiences, particularly if the pet will be euthanized. Children are often excluded from the decision to spare them the guilt associated with such a difficult choice.
What you can do
Shortly after the loss, the pain may outweigh the pleasurable memories of having a pet. Once the pain has diminished, you and your child may feel ready to become attached to a new pet. Your child may feel guilty about replacing the pet that has gone, perhaps worrying that they might forget about that pet. Grief is essentially about wanting to maintain a connection with someone who has died. There are many healthy ways to maintain this connection. Your child may feel better if they keep the pet's collar or put a framed photo on display.
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