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Handling the Death of a Family Pet

Pets, be it a furry dog, fluffy cat, or bright orange fish, become honorary family members quite quickly. Dealing with the Death of a PetHave you glanced at the latest family drawing your child created at school? My guess is the family pet is in the mix. Handling the death of the family pet can be an overwhelming and emotional experience not only for parents, but for children in the family as well. Below are some ways to help your child through this difficult time:

Planning the Goodbye

Although some pet deaths are unexpected, when they are not it is important that your child be able to take part in the goodbye process in an age-appropriate way. This could include writing a goodbye letter to their furry friend or drawing their pet a picture. These activities can help with the grieving process as they allow your child to review positive memories and experiences, as well as express their feelings in a healthy way. For younger children, it may also be helpful to read children’s books addressing this topic as a jumping off point for parent-child conversations related to your pet.

Informing your Child’s Support System

Letting your child’s teachers and caregivers know about the recent passing of a pet can create a safe environment for your child to express their feelings. Children, just like adults, may seem off, irritable, or sad during these times. When adults caring for children are made aware of recent events, they can be on the lookout for these emotional changes and be more accommodating as needed.

Moving Forward After Death

Each family is different regarding their interest in continuing to care for a pet. As the grieving process unfolds it may be helpful to speak with your child about the possibility of adopting a new family pet. Although your previous pet is irreplaceable, the process of adopting a new pet can allow for your family to work together and create a caring home for a pet in need.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

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Helping a Child Cope With Death

Books to Help Children Cope with the Death of a Loved One

Books are powerful and serve a variety of purposes.  Reading books can provide individuals with entertainment, knowledge, and skills.  For children who are not yet able to read, books may represent special bonding time with a parent, caregiver, or older sibling.  You may not have realized it, but books provide a great resource for social-Book List: Help a Child Cope With The Death Of A Loved Oneemotional learning.  Examples include books about going to school for the first time, making friends, dealing with bullies, managing anger, and the list goes on.  Other children’s books are written about specific adversities such as divorce, death, or illness to name a few.  The focus of today’s blog is using books for helping children understand and process the experience of losing a loved one.  Below is a list of books that can be helpful in supporting children’s understanding of death, dying, and the grieving process.

Books to Help Children Cope with the Death of a Loved One:

  1. When Someone Very Special Dies: Children Can Learn to Cope With Grief by Marge Heegaard
  2. Remembering Crystal by Sebastian Loth
  3. The Invisible String by Patrice Karst
  4. Everett Anderson’s Goodbye by Lucille Clifton
  5. The Saddest Time by Norma Simon
  6. Hold Me and I’ll Hold You by Jo Carson
  7. I Miss You: A First Look at Death by Pat Thomas
  8. The Purple Balloon by Chris Raschka
  9. Saying Goodbye To Grandma by J. R. Thomas
  10. A Taste of Blackberries by D. B. Smith

There have been many, many books written about the topic of grieving, death, and dying.  Some books are simple picture books that kids can read on their own.  In most cases, it is recommended to read the books with your children so that you, as the adult, can participate in the conversation that is sparked by the stories.  The grieving process is complex and does not look the same way for all children.  In general, when children are going through difficult times such as grieving the loss of a loved one, they will likely require more support than usual.  If you are concerned about your child’s grief reaction, or you yourself are struggling to support your little one through this experience, don’t hesitate to consult a professional.

Do you have other ideas about particular books or ways to use books to support children after experiencing a loss?  Please leave your comments below. 

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

Death: How to Explain it to Children

Sad girl with motherMany parents are concerned about discussing death with their children. They try to avoid the topic and some have said it’s one of their most feared topics to discuss with their children. Yet, death is a fact of life and if we aim to help our children cope, we must let them know it is okay to talk about it. Your efforts will help your child through this difficult time and through the inevitable losses and tough times that will come later in their lives. The death of a pet is often a child’s first experience with death. For information about talking with your kids about this, click here. 

How Children Understand Death at Various Ages:

Kids’ understanding about death depends on their age, life experiences, and personality.

Preschooler’s Understanding of Death

Preschoolers see death as reversible, temporary, and impersonal. They may see cartoon characters brush themselves off after being crushed or blown up and these images reinforce this notion. Kids at this age have a difficult time understanding that that all living things die and can’t come back.

5-9 Year Old’s Understanding of Death

Five to nine year-olds typically begin to realize the finality of death and that all living things die, but they do not see death as relating to them directly. They have magical thinking that somehow they can escape death. They also tend to visualize death as being a skeleton, the angel of death, the grim reaper, etc. Some children have nightmares about these personifications of death.

9-10 Year Old’s Understanding of Death

Nine or ten year-olds through teens begin to understand that death is irreversible, that all living things die, and that even they will die some day. Teenagers often become intrigued with finding out the meaning of life and search for meaning in the death. When teens ask why someone had to die, they are not looking for literal answers, but rather are trying to understand.

Remember, children develop at individual rates and have their own personal ways of managing their emotions.

10 Tips on Explaining Death to Children

1. Be honest with them and encourage their questions and expressions of emotions. It is important that kids know they can talk about it (even if you don’t have all the answers) and be sad, angry, scared, or whatever emotions they feel.

2. It is usually easier to talk about death when we are less emotionally involved. Children are exposed to mortality at a very young age: from dead flowers, trees, insects, or birds. Take time to explain these to children. Though it may sound morbid to us, it is an opportunity to help children learn about death.

3. For children under age 5 or 6, explain death in basic and concrete terms. Often it helps to explain it as the absence of familiar life functions. For example, “When Grandma died, she cannot breathe, eat, talk, think, or feel anymore.”

4. Kids often will repeatedly ask the same questions; it is how they process information. As frustrating as this can be, continue to calmly tell them that the person has died and can’t come back. Also, do not discourage their questions by telling them they are too young.

5. Try to answer children’s questions with brief and simple answers that are appropriate to their questions. Answers should be ones they can understand. Be careful not to overwhelm them with too many words.

6. Avoid using euphemisms such as telling children that the person “went to sleep” or “went away” or even that your family has “lost” the person. These explanations can lead young children to become afraid to go to sleep or worried when parents leave the house and “go away”.

7. Using the word “sickness” can be scary to young children. It is often helpful to explain to children that serious illnesses may cause death and although we all get sick sometimes, we usually get better again.

8. Avoid telling children that only old people die. When a child eventually learns that young people die too, they may not trust you. It may be better to say, “Grandpa lived a long time before he died. Most people live a long time, but some don’t. I think that you and I will.”

9. As children get older, they will have more questions and different questions about death. Take care to answer their questions as best you can.

10. When you don’t know the answers to children’s questions, don’t be afraid to say you don’t know.

If you need help, many resources including books, articles, community organizations, and social workers or counselors can provide guidance.

 

Some Books to Help Explain Death to Children/Teens

For preschoolers:

Badger’s Parting Gifts by Susan Varley- Andersen Press Ltd.

Granpa  by John Burningham

For ages 5 to 8:

Michael Rosen’s Sad Book by Michael Rosen

Gentle Willow by Joyce C. Mills.  One of few books written for children suffering an illness from which they may not recover.

For ages 8 to 12:

When Someone Very Special Dies by Marge Heegaard.  A practical workbook rather than a story. This book encourages children to illustrate their thoughts about death and loss through art.

The Cat Mummy by Jacqueline Wilson.  Begins to talk about the death of a feisty girl’s cat, but it then causes the child to think about the death of her mother many years ago.

What on Earth Do You Do When Someone Dies? By Trevor Romain.  Describes the range of emotions that people experience when a loved one dies and discusses how to cope.

For teens:

Straight Talk About Death for Teenagers by Earl A. Grollman.  A self-help book that discusses in straightforward terms, how to deal with the grief and other emotions caused by the death of a loved one.

The Grieving Teen by Helen FitzGerald.  A fairly sophisticated book that gives advice for teens on how to cope with death, discussing the emotional impact of bereavement and the special needs and concerns of teens during the grieving process.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom.  A simple book that doesn’t describe heaven in the literal sense, but rather it establishes that every life has a purpose and that all uncertainties will be cleared up in the end.

 

*North Shore Pediatric Therapy, Inc. (NSPT) intends for responses to the blogs to provide general educational information to the readership of this website; all content and answers to questions should not be understood to be specific advice intended for any particular individual(s). Questions submitted to this blog are not guaranteed to receive responses. No ongoing relationship of any sort (including but not limited to any form of professional relationship) is implied or offered by NSPT to people submitting questions. Always consult with your health professional first before initiating or changing any aspect of your treatment regimen.

 

The Death Of A Pet: How To Help Your Child Cope

When your family adopts a pet, it becomes a part of the family. When the pet grows old and becomes ill, inevitably you must discuss the possibility of the death of your beloved pet. For many children, losing a pet is the first experience they have with death, and the grieving process can be difficult for themYoung Boy Hugging Dog. As you talk with your children about the death of your pet, it is important to listen to their concerns, questions, and feelings.

Euthanizing Your Pet

No one wants a  pet to suffer any longer than necessary, so some families decide it is best to euthanize their pet. Euthanizing a pet involves “death by injection” for a terminally ill or suffering animal.

If you decide to euthanize your pet, be honest with your children. Talk about death before it happens using age-appropriate terms. For instance, “We all love Bailey so much. She is very, very sick and can’t do the things she used to like to do because she is in so much pain. The veterinarian said that was Bailey’s way of showing us that she could no longer live the life she was used to living. She said she could help Bailey die, so Bailey wouldn’t hurt anymore.” Make sure that young children know that very ill pets can be euthanized, but sick children never are.

Be Honest With Your Child About What Happened to Your Pet

When your pet dies, do not tell your child that the pet has run away. This explanation can leave your child wondering whether he did something to make the pet want to leave. Also, don’t tell your child that the pet has gone to a farm. This could give your child the false hope that he can see the pet again.

Although adults often talk about having to put their pet “to sleep”, it is not recommended that parents use this terminology with young children (under the age of 6). For young children, sleeping implies that the animal will eventually wake up. When the pet doesn’t wake up, young children can develop fears about going to sleep.

I also recommend that you don’t tell your children that you are putting your pet “down” because often parents will use the same term when they put an infant down for a nap. This can be very confusing for young children.

Managing Grief Over The Loss Of Your Pet

It is healthy for children to see that you are also sad about the death of your pet. It’s a great way for children to understand that being sad is okay. You can tell your children, “I’m so sad because I really miss Bailey.”

Everyone grieves differently, so if your child doesn’t cry, let her know it is okay to show her feelings any way that feels comfortable. Your child may enjoy showing her feelings by looking at pictures of the pet, drawing her own pictures, or telling stories about  positive and silly memories of her pet. Why not make a book of everyone in the family’s favorite memories of the pet, complete with photographs or drawings? It will be a great keepsake for years to come.

What Happens To The Pet After He Dies?

If your family’s religious or spiritual beliefs impact how you view death, share them with your child. There is also a poem about the death of a pet called Rainbow Bridge that has a beautiful way of describing where the pet goes once she dies. I recommend that families only share the first three paragraphs with small children, as the next two paragraphs discuss people reuniting with a pet when they die. If your child is having a particularly difficult time with the death of your pet, this can be very unsettling.

When To Adopt a New Pet

It is a very personal decision as to whether or when it is appropriate. Children should not be encouraged to get a new pet merely to “get over” the loss of their pet. A new pet doesn’t replace their beloved pet. Once your child can speak openly about the pet that died and begins to show an interest in a new pet, then the family can discuss if it is the right time.

*North Shore Pediatric Therapy, Inc. (NSPT) intends for responses to the blogs to provide general educational information to the readership of this website; all content and answers to questions should not be understood to be specific advice intended for any particular individual(s). Questions submitted to this blog are not guaranteed to receive responses. No ongoing relationship of any sort (including but not limited to any form of professional relationship) is implied or offered by NSPT to people submitting questions. Always consult with your health professional first before initiating or changing any aspect of your treatment regimen.