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How to Handle the Passing of a Family Pet With Your Children

My kids love animals; especially dogs. We had a wonderful family dog named Charlie (aka Choo Choo) who was hit by a car recently and passed away. As a parent, I felt helpless when my three children cried in my arms at the sudden loss in their lives. It was the first time we had lost a pet with such a tragic ending. I wasn’t sure what to say, other than, “I am so sorry about Choo. I know you miss him. Mommy does, too.”

Our home was eerily quiet the first few days after Choo’s passing. I could have sworn I heard his collar jingle from the laundry room like it did every morning when I walked in to pick him up from his bed. My kids had a routine. Charlie had a routine. We had this dog owning thing down to a T and we considered ourselves a family of six rather than five. When Charlie died, I think a piece of my kids’ child-like world did, too. Every situation, every family, every pet is different. Loss of one kind or another is inevitable. It’s how we deal with it that makes the difference.

If you are in this place right now or know someone who has recently lost a pet, use these tips: 

1. Its okay to grieve. My kids cried on and off for a few days after Charlie’s passing. This is healthy. It’s their body’s way of showing emotion, and my job as their parent is to let them know it’s okay to cry, it’s okay to be upset, and it’s okay to grieve for their dog.

2. Its important to talk about the pet. My two-year-old would ask where Charlie was every now and then after his passing. I gently reminded her that, according to our family’s beliefs, Charlie was in heaven. She would get quiet for a moment and then come over and give me a hug. We talk about him, still. When she brings his name up, I validate what she is saying and make eye contact with her so that she knows I am really listening. This helps her feel heard and understood. She usually moves on to something else within a minute or so, but I am always available to her when she asks me where he is.

3. Its okay to let your kids hold on to a tangible item of their pets stuff. My daughter walked around with Charlie’s sweater for a whole day. She snuggled with it, played Barbies with it by laying them on the sweater, wrapping them in the sweater, and sometimes just keeping the sweater in her lap while she played. She continually told me it was Charlie’s sweater and I would say, “Yes. You’re right, honey. That is Charlie’s sweater.” Sometimes actual things we can touch and feel and hold help us cope with the sudden loss of a beloved pet. It’s almost like we’re holding on to a piece of them when we can no longer actually hold them.

4. Its okay to talk about what happened. While it was uncomfortable for me to talk about Charlie’s accident over and over again, I knew it was an important step for my children in processing what had happened. I would suggest sparing your child all of the details if it was a tragic loss and sticking with simple words and phrases they can understand. For example, I used, “It was an accident. Yes, I know you miss Charlie. I do, too. Yes, Charlie was hit by a car. Sometimes these things happen, and I wish it didn’t.” By simply repeating phrases like this, my children found stability in an unstable situation, and they were able to open up and tell me how they felt.

5. Its okay to leave the house and do something fun. I took my kids to a bounce house the day after Charlie died. I didn’t really feel like going anywhere but when I saw my son standing by the spot where Charlie had been hit, I knew I needed to change his environment and bring him somewhere that would get his mind off of things for a while. I wasn’t sure how my kids would respond or if they would even feel like jumping around at the bounce house, but they loved it! I listened and watched them laugh, run, play, and bounce for a solid two hours. Sure, I knew we had to go home and enter back into reality, but those few hours of just being a kid and not being in the actual place where Charlie had died, was exactly what my kids needed.

6. Its okay for your kids to see you upset. I found myself crying on and off after Charlie died; random times, like when I was doing the dishes or when I was cleaning up the house. Something would remind me of him and I would tear up a little. Sometimes my kids would see this and just stare at me. It was healthy for them to see me showing my emotions, and I was able to talk to them, briefly, about how much mommy missed Charlie. We didn’t make a big deal about me crying. We didn’t dwell on it. We didn’t stop our whole day. We just held each other and let the tears flow.

Every pet, every family, and every situation is different. You know your kids the best. Do what works for you and use these suggestions as a starting place for what to do if you find yourself in a similar situation. The passing of a pet is tough. Take it one day at a time. Sometimes, you will have to take it one moment at a time, but your family will get through this loss.

Meagan is a parenting journalist, author, and speaker. For more tips on parenting, sign up for her free newsletter at meaganruffing.com and say hello on Facebook, writermeaganruffing

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