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Friends, it’s been a rough week. On Monday we lost our sweet cat Ana who was only 6 years old. She was a special girl who I affectionately called “second mom” because of the way she could sense when the boys were upset. Whether or not they were showing outward signs of sadness, frustration or anger, she seemed to know and would insist on cuddling with them. Sadly, this is not the first time I’ve been in a position to help kids cope with pet loss.
With the exception of our golden retriever, who I adopted before I was married or had children, every cat or dog our family has had was a rescue or a foster. We’ve cared for and loved many pets who no one else wanted or could care for. In doing that we’ve opened our hearts up to be broken when these sweet fur babies reached the end of their lives. which sometimes comes more quickly for pets who have had a rough start.
The time spent grieving our pets who have crossed the rainbow bridge has taught us some creative ways to help our kids cope with the loss of our pets. If you have recently experienced pet loss, I hope these tips help your family through the grieving process.
While every child and every family will find different ways to honor their pets and work through the grieving process, our family has used the following five activities after losing our beloved pets. From the tiniest mouse to the biggest dog, we’ve celebrated these furry lives and remembered the joy and unconditional love that our four-legged family members brought to us.
Make a Memorial Stone
We have a special place on our property where we bury our smaller pets when they pass away. It’s a shaded area that’s great for sitting and reflecting on pretty days. When we’ve lost a pet, I purchase pave stone or use broken cinder block pieces from projects around the yard to create memorial stones.
Using acrylic paint the boys (and sometimes I) make sweet memorial stones to place on the ground beside our pet’s grave. Sometimes the boys request to be alone while they paint. Other times we all sit together either quietly or chatting about how special our pet was to us.
After the paint has dried, we have a brief memorial service and place our memorial stones around the grave. For larger pets who were cremated and not buried on our property, we have made these memorial stones, as well.
Write a Note or Story About Your Pet
My oldest son finds that writing a note or story helps him to deal with the grief of losing a pet. Whether it’s a fiction story, a biography, a journal entry or just a little note to say good bye, your children might also find comfort in writing to or about their pet who has passed away.
Allow your child to be as private or as open as he or she wishes. When my son wrote a page-long note to his deceased mouse, he placed it inside his mouse’s aquarium and left it for a while before deciding he was ready to remove the aquarium and complete his grieving process. We could all see the note and he was fine with that.
When we buried Ana this week, he wrote a short note and placed it in her grave. He didn’t share what he’d written and preferred having privacy this time. Respect your child’s desire for privacy and don’t allow other children to infringe on each other’s privacy.
This child’s activity book from Rainbow Bridge is another great way for your kids to work through the loss of a pet.
Read a Book About Pet Loss
For children younger than 10, it may be helpful for them to read about stories of pet loss and how other families cope with the grief. Older children may be interested in understanding the stages of grief and how they will feel as they move through each.
Here are some wonderful books to read to your children when they are experiencing grief over the loss of a pet.
Draw or Paint Your Pet
Art and creativity are incredibly therapeutic and can help kids experiencing grief to work through their emotions in a way that simply talking about the situation can’t always help. Giving your child plenty of space and time to use creativity while grieving is important.
Encourage your child to draw or paint a picture of his or her lost pet. Frame it or save it in a special place where your child can look at it as often as he or she needs.
Children can draw a picture of a special moment they remember with their pet or of a special part of their daily routine with the pet. This helps to assure them that although their pet is gone, it has not been forgotten and those sweet memories are still accessible.
Buy Your Child a Stuffed Animal That Looks Like Your Pet
One of my boys’ favorite things to have after losing a pet is a stuffed animal that looks like their beloved pet. This especially helps if their pet slept with them before their passing. It’s comforting to your child to have the stuffed animal to pet, talk to and cuddle with as they go through the grieving process.
We have several versions of stuffed golden retrievers, a chocolate lab, and more that my children have either set on a shelf as a sweet reminder of their lost pets or played with and cuddled as their individual grief needs determined.
No matter how your family chooses to grieve your pet, remember that everyone grieves differently. Younger children may not spend much time in grief and older children may be affected more than they let on. Go with whatever your child needs no matter how long or short it takes and know that it’s better to have loved and lost a pet than to never have loved a pet at all.
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