Pet loss is always hard. As difficult as losing a pet is, pet loss with children is worse. Hashtag parenting is hard. If you have been following our little preschool chicken farmers on Instagram, then you already know the sad news that hit our household last week. My Sunshine is still recovering from the loss of one of our chickens. I know, I know, it’s just a $2 chicken. But to a 5 year old that spent time with this chicken every day, hand fed her and begged to stay home from Mother’s Day Out to sing to her when she laid eggs, this was a tough loss.
Worse than just losing her, she was attacked by a stray dog while we were at home. We couldn’t find any visible injures so she sat in the coop all day before I found her gone in the morning. He knows she was attacked and he’s sad and angry. Our family had a small chicken funeral where we buried her under her “favorite tree”. My Sunshine asked God to feed her worms. He painted her a rock and had me write “You were a great chicken, thank you for the eggs”. Then through tears, he shook his fist in the air and promised he would and I quote “hunt down the dogs that did this”. He’s quite the little protector, bless his heart. This is him sitting vigil in the coop.
I was shocked that he was so effected by losing a chicken, so I did some research and talked to some mamas who have been through this (always my best resource!). Our older lab is a gorgeous old man who will be 11 years old this June. I know his years are numbered and I know that will be a devastating loss for us all. Especially for his best friend who once proudly announced he wanted to marry this dog. Melt my heart. So I am trying to wrap my head around being better equip for the tough stuff and here’s my very best tips for supporting your children after losing a pet.
- Be Honest
Children are gloriously resilient and they understand things better when you are honest with them. Explain the circumstances clearly. Don’t be afraid to use the word death or died. Other phrases can confuse them, scare them or even give them the impression the pet will come back one day. Tell them the truth.
- Keep It Simple
Although children handle the truth better than any sugar coated stories, you don’t have to give every detail. Start with the basic information then let their questions guide how much more you need to share. They may have more questions as the days pass. If you give short, simple, yet truthful answers, their fears and concerns will be put to ease and they will think about it less and less.
- Let Them Mourn
Our son was able to pick where we buried her, being a part of that decision seemed to give him some peace. Some kids may want to keep the collar of the dog or a special toy as a keepsake. Some might want to honor their pet by painting a rock like we did or creating a picture collage. Let them mourn in their own way and ask them how they would like to remember their pet.
- Be Understanding & Patient
It is important to be understanding of their feelings and not pass judgement on how they feel. Let them express their emotions in their own ways and comfort them. Be patient as even weeks, months or years later a child can melt down over a missing their pet occasionally. Let them know that their feelings matter.
- Set A Good Example
Many times you are just as close to the pet. Allow your child to see your emotions so that they know it is ok to grieve. Share with them how you are dealing with the loss. Then set a good example by handling your feelings in a healthy way and moving forward. They will follow your lead to share their feelings and find peace with the circumstances.
Every child is different, it is normal for them to have little emotion, or grieve briefly, just as it is normal for them to be sad for a long time. However they react, allow them to grieve in their own way and be respectful as they process. I was worried about the anger our little guy had about it, but we gave him support and space and his emotions have simmered down.
This has been a difficult life lesson but this week has been much better and we haven’t found him sitting under the tree so we’re glad he is moving on. RIP Beautiful, she is the gorgeous dark brown Sussex chicken seen below.