By Dr. Robin Ganzert | Why helping your grandchild to grieve the loss of a pet is so important |
One of the greatest bonds your grandchild can experience is the one they share with a pet. Children have a deep affinity for animals, and the feeling is often mutual. Many pets are older because they become members of the family before a child is born or adopted. (We encourage parents and grandparents to properly introduce young kids to family pets, as outlined in Pet Meets Baby.) Pets age much faster than humans, too, so even a new puppy or kitty can grow old during a grandkid’s childhood. When a pet dies of natural or accidental causes or because the parents or grandparents made the tough decision that it was time for a beloved pet to cross the rainbow bridge, it is often the child’s first experience with death. And it needs to be addressed in the right way. A few years ago, the AHA published a landmark study showing that the loss of a childhood pet can have a profound impact on a person through adulthood. Indeed, 40% of adults surveyed said the passing of their childhood pet still affected them. Death can be a great uncertainty, and children will experience myriad emotions. They will be sad, certainly, but they might also express anger that something “bad” happened to their cherished companion. How could their four-legged pal be playing with them yesterday but no longer here today? Why did he get sick? Will she ever come back? These are some of the tough questions you might have to answer, so it’s best to be prepared. Here are some ways you can help your grandchild cope with the loss of a pet:
- Relive the fun times they had with their furry, winged, or scaled friend.
- Share stories of your own childhood pets.
- Help them plan a memorial service.
- Make a donation in the pet’s name to an animal charity or shelter and explain that it will help other animals find loving homes so they, too, can have a wonderful life.
Every grandchild will grieve in his or her own way. It may take time for the grief to lessen, and it will take need plenty of love. But that’s what grandparents are for, isn’t it? Robin Ganzert, PhD, is the president of American Humane Association, the country’s first humanitarian organization and the only one dedicated to protecting both children and animals.