The single greatest loss your child endures will be the loss of a family pet.
The pet – cat, dog or fish, was optimus amicus.
Pets are their confidants, safe place and conversationalists. The world and its dogged systems conspire against children and animals and their innate abilities to communicate. Non verbal communication is a reality, ask a child who spends or has spent time with an animal. They all reply in the affirmative, animals talk and kids listen.
No matter the configuration of your family, these infants grow up together. Until nature takes over and the animal ages quicker.
Begin preparing them for the inevitable.
There are no fairy tale endings for kids and family pets. Between a pet’s home coming and ageing there is hard work, fun, laughter, and as the end nears closer tears. The discipline a family pet teaches a child just by virtue of its presence is unparalleled. Your family pet is best the investment of work, expenses and time. What is your return? Making memories for your kids with their pets.
Our media driven world is overrun with videos and photos of baby- puppy or baby- kitten interactions. They make for quick amusing breaks through what has become an upside down existence for so many. The dangers of some of these over the top videos clearly push the limits of child animal interaction. It is also horrifying to watch the clear use of child and pet by an adult in an attempt to portray their reality as picture perfect!
However, most troubling are the obvious bonds of relationship between toddlers and young children with their pets. You almost want to shout out, “No! in 10 years that pet will be no more- how will your child react?” But you know in the real world loss is a fact of life. You empathise with this young stranger whom you will never meet, but are bound by a common emotion- the grief of loosing an animal.
The most deplorable and unavoidable ‘greatest loss’ is the heartbreak of a child who’s pet is ‘surrendered’ or ‘ re homed’ because it is no longer convenient or does not fit into a family schedule. In one swift blow a child’s heart is broken and to a young mind abandonment becomes an acceptable action.
Allowing children to experience loss, with honesty may help them to accept loss as they mature. It’s all conjecture, loss affects individual in varying degrees, at different life stages. Your child’s greatest loss is the loss of a family pet, their first true love. Mental health and its mysteries may never be definitively solved, but we know this, the loss of a pet is devastating.
Be direct and honest, explain death to them, do not trivialise their greatest loss by creating make believe worlds. Your child’s greatest loss is exacerbated by platitudes of “he’s in doggie heaven” or “all dogs go to heaven”. The ever popular “he’s gone to be with his friends” do nothing more than confuse a young mind. It may surprise you but honesty and a simple explanation of death (depending on the age of the child) are usually more effective than spinning yarns. Your child’s greatest loss is compounded by confusion.
In our zeal to make the loss bearable we’ve hijacked rainbows, those awe inspiring magical arcs in the sky! The science of it is not half as fascinating as the magic. This confused young mind now has to tell the difference between a rainbow bridge and the rainbow that holds a pot of gold!
Bereavement counselors may help adults. But for a child when your best friend has left you the loss brings on feelings of anger and abandonment. Your child’s greatest loss is a lesson in the resilience of a young mind. They process grief uniquely as they carry the memory to adulthood.
For every kid who has lost a pet and learned to love again its the promise of unconditional love. To set yourself up for heartbreak may seem illogical, but it is your memory of the joyful rollercoaster, that urges you to continue to climb back on to a ride you know you’ll fall off.
Never mind a smile across your face, pets make our hearts happy.
For a change this piece has no references, no edits, no medical inputs or journals referenced. This one is from living with and loving animals for a life time. No child management, educationist or discipline can prepare your child for the loss of a best friend. It’s a loss they’ll carry forever, and in time the happy memories will bring a smile to their heart.