How to Help a Child Grieve the Loss of a Pet

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Losing a furry family member is tough cookies. It’s like saying goodbye to a bundle of love wrapped in fur. And when it comes to kids, it hits even harder. They’re not just pets; they’re their secret-keeping, under-the-covers-snuggling, always-there-for-a-hug buddies. So, let’s talk about how to help a child grieve the loss of a pet — with lots of love, a bit of magic, and maybe a few ice cream cones along the way.

Hi, I’m Danielle MacKinnon, an animal communicator, and I’ve been through this rollercoaster more times than I can count. 

How do you explain the Rainbow Bridge to a child?

In my two decades of helping families, I’ve found that honesty, wrapped in the gentle story of the Rainbow Bridge, works wonders. Telling a child their pet “went to grandma’s” might seem like a soft landing, but the truth, told with love, builds trust and helps heal.

The Rainbow Bridge concept, from the Rainbow Bridge poem (just Google it)  is my tried-and-true method. It’s a way to talk about pet heaven without making things too heavy. I usually say, “Imagine a place where your pet can leap and play, with endless treats and all their favorite toys. That’s where they are now, waiting for us, free and happy.” It’s honest, but loving, and helps kids picture a beautiful forever home for their buddy. It’s a way to say, “Your buddy is in a happy place, waiting to meet again” without the harsh sting of finality.

But let’s be real, explaining this isn’t always a walk in the park. It’s about finding the right words that resonate with your child, making the concept of the Rainbow Bridge not just a story, but a comforting blanket they can wrap themselves in whenever they miss their furry friend.

How to Help a Child Grieve the Loss of a Pet

How does the death of a pet affect a child?

Death touches each of us differently, and kids are no exception. Some might dive into a sea of tears, others might bubble up with questions, and a few might just need to sit in silence, feeling the weight of their loss. The first step? Let them lead. If they’re a crier, be their shoulder. If they’re angry, let them express it without a “calm down” directive. It’s all about letting them lead the way. If they want to build a pillow fort and pretend it’s a castle where their pet is now the royal guard, why not?

Often, what they’re really looking for is someone to be there, whether their feelings make sense or not. They do not need you to dish out advice at this point. Instead, provide for them a safe space to express their feelings, their way. Being there, offering a hug, or just sitting beside them in silence speaks volumes. Remember, your job isn’t to fix it with words but to anchor them with your presence. And trust me, sometimes that silent support speaks volumes.

It’s about supporting their unique journey through grief, without trying to steer it.

Should you let your child say goodbye to a pet?

This is a biggie. Many folks wrestle with whether to let their child say a final goodbye. If you’re faced with this choice, first take a moment to be thankful. Not everyone gets the opportunity to make this choice for their children. 

Next, it’s about weighing what’s best for your particular child. Some kids find closure in a heartfelt farewell, while others might find it overwhelming. Goodbye is not a one-size-fits-all way to go. For those children who can handle it, saying goodbye can be a precious gift—a moment to express love, share memories, and even whisper a secret or two. 

Closure doesn’t always require an in-person goodbye. A photo, a favorite toy, or a quiet moment before bed can also serve as a gentle bridge to saying farewell. It’s about offering closure for your child, in whatever form suits them best. There are many ways to say farewell, each as meaningful as the last.

The best choice for your kid is the one that helps them understand that it’s okay to feel sad, to miss their buddy, and to remember the happy times.

When is the right time for a new pet?

Timing is everything and yet we must remember it is also divine. When it comes to welcoming a new pet, there’s no stopwatch on grief, and jumping into pet ownership again isn’t a one-size-fits-all deal. Rushing into it, thinking it’ll patch up the hole left behind, often backfires. Maybe you think the time is right for your child, but do they? Often, to really help a child grieve the loss of a pet, they have to sit in the feelings in order to accept and understand them. 

It’s also important not to sideline your own feelings in the rush to make your child smile again. As an animal communicator, I’ve seen the magic that happens when families wait for the right moment – and that right pet. It’s not about filling a void but opening your home and heart when you’re truly ready. And this is the Divine timing I was talking about! When the time is right, the universe has a way of bringing a new furry friend into your life, making the transition not just easier, but filled with joy for everyone involved.

On the other hand, kids often have this magical way of sensing things we adults might miss. They might start talking about their pet visiting them in dreams or how they felt a nudge on their hand when no one was around. That’s your cue. It’s their heart telling you it might be time to add another chapter to your family’s storybook. But hey, no rush. Every story unfolds at its own pace.

How to help a child grieve the upcoming loss of a pet?

Preparing for a pet’s passing before it happens is a delicate dance. It’s about honesty, creating a space for feelings, and making the most of the time left. Initiating conversations, sharing stories, and even starting a project together, like a memory box or scrapbook, can be therapeutic. These are ways to channel upcoming grief into something tangible, a keepsake of love and memories. 

You can also encourage your child to express their feelings, whether through art, writing, or, and I’ve found this to be the most helpful and healing for children, by simply talking with their pet. It’s OK for your child to tell their pet that they’re going to miss them, and how big their love is, and everything else that comes to mind. Often the very best way to prepare a child is to allow them to navigate the relationship with their pet, their way. 

This proactive approach to how to help a child grieve the loss of a pet doesn’t just help in coping with the loss; it strengthens the bond between you and your child AND your child and their pet, showing them that it’s okay to talk about their feelings, to remember, and to love, even in the face of loss. It’s about creating a space for those big feelings and letting them know it’s okay to feel them all.

Grieving the loss of a pet is a journey paved with tears, laughter, and countless memories. As someone who’s walked this path alongside many, I’ve learned that love, patience, and understanding are the beacons that guide us through. Remember, it’s okay to laugh at the goofy times, to cry over the quiet moments, and to hold onto the love that forever binds you to your pet. In the end, it’s this love that carries us forward, transforming grief into a tapestry of cherished memories and lessons learned.