Helping Children Deal with Loss

There are many reasons your dog might leave your home: illness, accident, economic hardship or the realization that, despite your best efforts, this dog isn't going to work in your home. One of the hardest aspects of dealing with the loss of a dog is how upset your children can be. As a parent you can help your child(ren) through this. We hope these suggestions help you and your family deal with and even grow closer through your loss.

  • If at all possible, tell the children ahead of time
    • Let them know what is happening, giving age-appropriate detail
    • Allow them to each say good-bye in their own way
  • Hold a family discussion
    • Losing a dog affects each family member, so try to include everyone
    • Explain the reasons for the loss of the dog
    • Allow each child to say what they want to say, without “correcting” them for their feelings
    • If possible, allow children to present their ideas of possible solutions, then discuss pros and cons of each idea in an age-appropriate, caring manner
  • Allow them whatever emotional response they have and try to meet them where they are and talk when they’re ready.
    • Toddlers are often pragmatic, but may ask questions at random moments
    • Pre-teens can often have intense feelings which they can express
    • Adolescents may hide their emotions but will be hurting nonetheless
  • Most importantly, let your children know you care deeply about the dog and about them, so they don’t have to deal with their feelings of loss alone. Here are a few things everyone might find comforting:
    • Sort through photos together. Ask your children about favorite memories, funny moments, things they loved about your dog.
    • Make a scrapbook. Ask your children to write or draw about a favorite memory, what was cute about your dog, or anything they feel like contributing.
    • Have a family “memorial service” if the dog has died or a “memory sharing service” if the dog is being rehomed. This can be brief, but is a time for the family to acknowledge their grief, express gratitude for the dog, and say good-bye together.
    • Plant a special tree in memory of your dog.
    • Allow each child their own timeline for how long or often they need to talk about the dog and their loss

Everyone handles grief differently and on their own timetable, but if you think a child is having a hard time moving through and past their grief, don’t hesitate to contact a counselor for help. The way a child deals with the loss of a pet may very likely impact how they respond to loss throughout their life, so this can be an important, though painful, learning experience.

You are welcome to stop by our forums, where you will find sympathy, understanding and support. It is difficult to lose a dog for whatever reason, but, when handled sensitively, the experience can draw a family together and build trust as family members grieve together and comfort one another.

by Melissa Fischer, PuppyHomeSchool.com

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