Can Getting a Pet Help Children Grieve?by Lisa McQuerrey
Children often face grief and process complex emotions in a way that's different from adults. Getting a pet after the loss of a loved one or bringing home a new pet after an existing one dies, can help a child through the grieving and recovery process. Adults, however, must help manage expectations and allow children to work through the natural stages of grief without using a pet as a replacement.
Loss of Family Member
Getting a pet to help a child grieve the loss of a close family member can give the child a source of comfort and stability. Pets provide unconditional love, and caring for the physical and emotional well-being and needs of an animal can help a child feel in control, like they’re making a positive contribution. This can be beneficial when a child likely feels helpless and unable to control what's happening around them.
Loss of Household Pet
When a beloved family pet dies, some family members may be ready to welcome a new animal into the household within a matter of days and weeks, while others think they can never have another pet or may take months or years to entertain the idea. Caution must be used to ensure both child and family members have the opportunity to fully grieve and mourn the loss of the deceased pet. A new pet should not be viewed as a replacement for the departed one, and children must understand that the new animal will have its own distinct personality and characteristics that will be different from the pet they lost.
Benefits of Pets
Pets can help reduce depression that develops from many different sources, including loss. A pet requires attention, forcing its caretaker to be physically active and attentive to its needs. The pet provides physical comfort, which can be vital to the child's sense of well-being. A pet also can remind the child what's good and fun in life. A playful and carefree animal can draw in a grieving child and give them the opportunity to focus their emotions elsewhere.
Remember that bringing a new pet into a home requires a commitment of time and love from the whole household, particularly if you're getting a young animal. If a child who is grieving is unable to appropriately care for the new pet, an adult or older child will have to be willing to help with this responsibility to ensure the animal gets the attention it needs.