Helping Children Cope With Loss
While none of us relish the idea of teaching our children about death and dying, it's just not possible to shield them from these very real issues, no matter how painful they may be. In addition to our distaste with dealing with these concepts, we have the added difficulty of explaining something that is near impossible to explain. While the loss of a grandparent may be your child's first experience with death, the death of a beloved pet may be a more tangible loss, in particular if the grandparent lived far away from your family during his/her lifetime.
One way to make it easier for your child to learn about death is to begin before they are exposed to an actual loss. As a parent, you can decide it's in your child's best interest to look at and understand death, and watch for opportunities that can give light and understanding to a small child about this most natural consequence to life. For instance, if you are taking a walk with your child, and you see a dying bird, or one that is already dead, you can stop and discuss what you observe. You can show other examples of living things that die, such as a plant that has wilted beyond recovery.
Part of a parent's job is to teach, and part of the job of teaching is to watch for the moments that illustrate concepts to our children at a time when they are receptive. It can be hard not to be caught off guard as your children ask you tough questions about death and dying during a television news report, but be prepared, you must, to use the moment to help further your child's understanding about something almost unfathomable. Think now, about what you want to say to your child about your beliefs in regard to death. Talk about how you felt when someone close to you died and ask them about how they will feel when someone they care about passes away.
Use The Opportunity
If a beloved family pet dies, a parent can use the opportunity to discuss the fact that the death has ended the life of the pet. This very exposure to death helps the child assimilate the permanence of the loss. No matter what fantastic story lines your child has witnessed in story books or in movies, the fact of the pet's death illustrates the finality of death in a way that nothing else can—the pet is not going to come back to life, no matter how the child might wish it so.
Giving your child a task related to the pet's death is the best way to help him work through his feelings. Encourage your child to plan the pet's funeral and burial and be on hand to help him carry out his final kindness to a cherished friend.