While we buy pets for our children to teach them responsibility, compassion, and the value of companionship, it also teaches them two valuable lessons --mortality, and moving forward.
While losing a distant uncle or a grandparent seems surreal to a child, losing a pet is all too real. A child knows that even without one family member, there are other family members who will care for him. Moving forward, although still painful, can be a little less difficult when surrounded by a strong, loving support group.
However, when a child loses the pet he's played with on a daily basis, got in trouble with regularly, picked up after day in and day out, cuddled with when the closet monster threatened to come out every night, a pet he was responsible for --it's not that easy to say good bye and walk on. At one point, a pet escalates its status from mere housemate to best friend. The child may even escalate his own status to big brother or father to the pet. He's already invested time and effort in caring and disciplining his pet that it's no longer just an animal in his eyes and heart.
And that's when the bond between pet and child becomes unbreakable. Until now.
How do you become an even stronger support group during this kind of loss?
- Understand your child's pain. Don't --and I mean, DON'T-- laugh at him or joke about how he's getting all emotional about a little thing. Death isn't little, no matter whose it is.
- Remind him of how awesome a pet owner he has been. Usually, part of a child's mourning is burdened by guilt. Stomp that bad feeling immediately!
- Do not rush your child to move on by getting him a new pet. That's like saying, "Oh, your shirt's ripped. Here, I got you a new one." Give your child time to go through his stages of grief. He'll tell you when he's ready.
- Offer happy family distractions --without being pushy. When a child is grieving, all he really needs to know is that life must go on. And that he's never alone.
- Just be there. When he feels like talking, listen. And then talk about his pet's happy memories so he doesn't wallow in the sad ones. Because, really, it's the happy memories that will keep his little best friend 'alive'.
Hope you're just as well taken cared off in that heavenly flock in the sky!