Kids & Pet Loss: Helping Kids Through Pet Loss Grief
losing a pet is hard. helping kids navigate this sad time can be hard, but there are some activities you can do as a family to help your kids understand pet loss.
We recently lost our dog (Read about that here).
It was hard. Not only was she the first dog I had as an adult, she was the first (and only, thus far) dog my girls have ever had. That sweet shih tzu/toy poodle mix was with me each time I brought a baby home from the hospital. My oldest’s first word was dog, and our small, eight-pound pup was our feisty companion from the beginning of my girls’ lives until now.
Kenzi, our sweet dog, was 15 and in poor health, so her passing wasn’t unexpected, but the girls didn’t take it well. They didn’t feel like they got to say a proper goodbye (the dog went to sleep one night and simply didn’t wake up), they didn’t get a last cuddle, they didn’t know that their final day with Kenzi had already passed. And that’s hard. It’s hard to not know you’ve reached the end until you’ve already passed it.
So I’ve rounded up some resources that have helped my girls and me navigate pet loss that will hopefully help other parents, too, when the time to say goodbye to your beloved pet arrives. Losing your first pet is never easy, and it’s hard to know how navigate those feelings as an adult, let alone navigate them with kids.
Kids & Pet Loss: Books to Read
The Rainbow Bridge: A Visit to Pet Paradise is a gorgeous story that talks about the relationship between Rick and his dog Koko, who grows old and eventually passes away. Rick is heartbroken, and, with the help of a humorous hound, is able to make sense of the tragedy that is losing a beloved pet.
The Invisible Leash reminds us that pets may be gone from our sides but can remain forever in our hearts, linked to us always by an invisible line. My girls loved to follow along with Zack as he came to terms with his pup’s passing.
Paw Prints in the Stars: A Farewell and Journal for a Beloved Pet is both a story and commemorative keepsake to store photos and tags from your pet. The beautiful prose in the book is told from the perspective of the pet to its dear owner, and it’s a unique way to remember a pet no longer by your side.
Kids & Pet Loss: Creating Memorable Keepsakes
My girls didn’t want to forget our sweet pet Kenzi, and, they loved stuffed animals, so we decided to make a sweet stuffed companion for each girl to hold tight when she missed our Kenzi. We picked out stuffed animals that reminded us of the girls (each had a slightly different animal picked out, which I loved because it shows their different personalities and who Kenzi was to each of them) and then we took several of Kenzi’s old sweaters and outfitted each stuffed friend. Each stuffed companion then got one of Kenzi’s old collars to wear. These friends sit proudly atop each girl’s bed and have become fixtures during our nighttime routines. Perfect for bedtime snuggles, these companions help us keep Kenzi close.
Kids & Pet Loss: Holding a Farewell Ceremony
We wanted to do something that celebrated the life of the dog we loved so dearly, so we decided to hold a small ceremony in our backyard that included my husband, my girls and me. We purchased a gorgeous stone for our garden that would serve as a reminder than Kenzi was still in our hearts even if she was no longer in our lives. We then let each girl gather a few flowers and talk about what she would remember most from her years with Kenzi. We laughed and we cried, and this small ceremony that ended with the girls tossing flowers on the stone in the garden helped us bring closure to a sad event.
Kids & Pet Loss: Additional Resources, Tips and Tricks
Here are a few additional resources that helped me under how to guide my girls through losing their first dog:
- This article from Psychology Today helped give me a few more ideas on ways to keep Kenzi’s memory alive in our home.
- This article from Today gave me some guidance to use with my kids to talk about Kenzi’s death. It helped me have a conversation with the girls about what happens when people and pets die.
- This article from the Center for Pet Loss Grief allowed me to think about my grief and the girls’ grief and helped me understand what grief looks and feels like.
Other Tips that Helped Us Navigate Losing Our Dog
- Kenzi passed away on a Wednesday night, so we let our girls attend school virtually Thursday. I emailed the kids’ teachers to let them know about our dog’s passing, and each teacher sent my girls a sweet note of sympathy to my girls. These notes meant a lot to them.
- I asked friends and family to send over any pictures or videos they may have had that included Kenzi that we could print or share. A sweet friend sent us a video from six years ago of our sweet 8-pound pup charging after her boys and her boys screaming and running away as if being chased by something far more vicious (and far bigger!) than our tiny dog. The video had us laughing through our tears and brought back sweet memories of Kenzi from her younger, more active days.
- We donated the items of Kenzi’s that we could no longer use- food, water and drink bowls, and doggie pads and diapers she needed because she was aging, to our local animal shelter. We also shopped beforehand for additional dog food and treats (each girl picked out a few things) and brought those with us for donation. I let the girls tell the staff that we were donating everything on behalf of a dog who was very, very loved and will be so missed.
Ultimately, there is no wrong way to grieve the passing of a beloved pet. However you say goodbye, it’s important to remind kids that it’s okay to be sad. Saying goodbye is hard for all of us.