Dealing with the loss of a pet is hard on everyone in a family, and can be especially difficult when trying to help a preschooler deal with what may be their first experience with death. There’s no way to fully take away the pain your preschooler will feel from losing their pet, but there are some ways you can help them adjust.
TALK AND TEACH
You may be tempted to tell your preschooler their beloved dog ran away, or make up anything that sounds better than death, but being honest with them is how they learn. It’s important to take the time to explain to your preschooler that their pet is gone, and won’t be coming back, so they aren’t confused in the future.
Reading to your preschooler is a great way to help them learn about all kinds of life situations, and there’s a lot of great books available to help you teach your preschooler how to cope with their loss.
For a very simple book about the emotions we may feel after experiencing a loss, check out The GoodBye Book by Todd Parr.
And for a more advanced story about a boy who lost his dog but will forever be connected by heart, check out The Invisible Leash: A Story Celebrating Love After the Loss of a Pet by Patrice Karst. You might want to make sure you have a box of tissues nearby for this one.
It’s natural for children to have a lot of questions after experiencing a loss, even if you’ve explained and read all of the books, you’re still likely to get some questions here and there. Some questions you should be prepared to answer are:
- Will I ever see my pet again?
- Why did my pet die?
- Do all animals die?
- Where is my pet now?
- Is it my fault that my pet died?
- Can I have another pet someday? Will it die?
OFFER COMFORT AND SUPPORT
Sometimes a hug can make all the difference. If your preschooler used to wrap their arms around their pet for comfort, or talk to them about their feelings, then they’re probably feeling a little lost. Dealing with so many emotions may affect your preschooler’s behavior, and cause them to act out.
Being patient and understanding, and offering support is important in these times. Try to sit down with your preschooler frequently and ask them how they are feeling. If your preschooler isn’t yet sure how to identify their feelings, this is a great time to check out The Color Monster: A Story About Emotions.
HOLD A MEMORIAL
Whether you choose to bury your pet in your backyard, or just take the time to say a few nice words somewhere peaceful, having an official memorial for your pet is beneficial in helping your preschool understand that their pet won’t be returning, and gives them a chance to say an official goodbye.
If you mark the memorial location, your preschooler can return to this spot when they are missing their pet, so they can feel connected to them as they think back on their fun memories together.
HAVE QUIET FAMILY TIME
It’s been a whirlwind of emotions lately, and on top of coping with losing their best friend, your preschooler has learned about death, feelings, and possibly attended their first funeral. They could use some time to not have to think about anything for a while.
This is a great opportunity to pull out the junk food, pop in a silly movie, turn off all the lights, and cuddle up on the couch. Make sure you hold your preschooler extra tight, and laugh extra hard at the funny parts of the movie. Bonus tip:
We’ve never seen a preschooler that wasn’t smiling while eating ice cream. Ever.