Losing a pet is a profound and often challenging experience for all ages, especially children. It can be difficult to navigate your own grief while wanting to be a secure anchor for your child. Child and family therapist, Elizabeth Ernest, offers a few ideas for families to help support your children in these trying times:
- Foster open communication: Use age appropriate language to share what happened in a way that they can understand.
- Read books about pet losses or losing a loved one: You can provide education about death and what it means by reading books about this topic. Some of the books I recommend for young ones are: Invisible Leash, Invisible String, The Rainbow Bridge, and Memory Box.
- Create a memorial or way to remember the pet: I love a memory box (alongside the Memory Box book). You can use a photo craft box, a shoe box, or even a jar if you don’t want to use a box! Gather craft items and let your child decorate the item as they wish. Then help them brainstorm items to add into the memory box: pictures, the pet’s collar, an old toy, or a child’s drawing. Have them place the items in the box as this helps with providing closure.
- Acknowledge and validate their emotions: Encourage them to express their feelings in healthy ways through art, journaling, or talking to you.
- Maintain routines: Maintaining normalcy in times of grief can help with stabilization. Routines are a way to provide safety and structure when many of their feelings feel outside of their control.
By fostering open communication, encouraging expression, and providing opportunities for memorialization, adults can help guide children through the grieving process with empathy and understanding. Remember that each child is unique, and the grieving process is a personal journey. By offering love, support, and a listening ear, we can help our children navigate the complex emotions that arise when saying goodbye to a cherished furry friend.
Is your child needing extra support? I am leading two upcoming programs for kids: a BFRB Support Course for Kids Ages 8-14 (a 4 week course for kids who struggle with skin picking, hair pulling, etc) and Play Therapy Summer Camp for Ages 5-7 (a 3 hour, week-long play therapy summer camp focusing on emotion regulation, peer relations, and many other social skills).
Elizabeth is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). Elizabeth is dedicated to helping children and families build skills to overcome challenges and thrive. Elizabeth works with young children and youth struggling with anxiety-related disorders, OCD, behavior issues, adjustment issues, PTSD, and other trauma disorders. Elizabeth also works with couples, families, and co-parenting dynamics. She is currently accepting new patients and is able to accept UHC and Aetna insurance plans. Find out more about Elizabeth here.