David Meagher: Children and Pet Loss

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How can you help children address pet loss? David Meagher, a professor emeritus at The City University of New York, explains that pets genuinely become part of a family. The grief many feel for their pets is on par with grief they may feel for a close family member. Dr. Gloria Horsley of the Open to Hope Foundation discusses with Meagher how adults can help children address their grief and heal from it. This can be especially challenging when everyone in the family is experiencing acute grief from this traumatic loss. Many times, for a child, losing a pet is their first big experience with death—but many of their questions go unanswered.

Pet loss is a very serious loss, he explains. Adults may not have done a comprehensive job of preparing children for grief, explaining what death is, or know how to give a child the tools to handle their grief. In many cases, a pet is a child’s first and closest friend. They honor their pets, and sudden losses in particular can make life feel precarious for children. While adults usually know that death is a “big deal” for children when it involves a person, pet loss can be pushed onto the back burner.

Not “Just a Pet”

Adults might not let children “act out” in any way. It’s fairly common to hide the loss or replace a pet to preserve their innocence. That doesn’t help the child. If and when a child loses a pet, they should be allowed to talk about that loss with adults. Creating a ritual, such as a funeral, can help with loss recognition and allow for a formal place to express themselves. It helps to preserve their memories.

Losing someone you love, including a pet, is hard. However, adults can help with memorial services.

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