How to support a child when their cat has died
Have you ever wondered/needed to know how to support a child when their cat has died?
The death of a much-loved cat can be a devastating blow to children, particularly as it may be their first experience of death. The Cats Protection offers emotional support for anyone helping a child cope with losing a cat, as part of its Paws to Listen service. Isn’t that a fantastic idea. The service includes a free and confidential phone line where volunteers can offer support, as well as a range of other materials available on the website.
Cats Protection’s Paws to Listen Team Leader Catherine Joyce said:
“A pet cat may have been a constant presence in a child’s life for many years, and their death can be very hard for children to accept. Often, children may have never experienced grief and they may feel overwhelmed with many feelings of loss.
“If handled sensitively, the experience of grieving for a cat can help a child learn positive strategies to cope with loss later in life. Our volunteers are able to offer support to parents or anyone else who would like to help a child through what can be a very difficult time in their lives.”
Here they share their best tips for helping children cope with losing a pet:
Be honest: ‘White lies’ to protect children from the pain of a cat dying may be well-intentioned, but can lead to confusion and further upset. Most parents who have experienced the loss of a pet agree that honesty is the best policy, however difficult it may seem at the time.
Don’t set a time limit on grief: For children of all ages, grief may be delayed and surface days or weeks afterwards. This can be the result of busy schedules, peer pressure or emotional inhibitions.
Offer reassurance: It is common for children (and many adults) to worry about a dead pet being lonely or cold in their grave. This is a normal reaction and it may be useful to offer reassurance that when someone has died, they are not able to feel lonely, cold, wet, hungry, thirsty or frightened.
Explain euthanasia: It is essential that a child never feels they are totally responsible for making their decision to have their pet euthanased (even if the pet was ‘theirs’). An adult ultimately must have personal responsibility for the death of the pet by euthanasia, never a child. However, if they want to be involved in the decision this can be helpful, as can be involved in the end of life care of a pet. Talk about euthanasia in advance if possible. Providing a careful explanation of what happens in the euthanasia process may be helpful. Give honest but sensitive answers to a child’s questions.
Make a memorial: Memorials can be useful for anyone losing a pet, but for children, it can have a lasting impact upon their experience of loss and grief as they grow into adults. There are lots of ways to memorialise a pet including making a memory box, writing a poem, holding a ceremony to say goodbye or having a painting commissioned. Involving your child in how to memorialise a deceased pet can be helpful.
Cat memory wall
As well as the support line and information guides, Cats Protection also offers a memory wall on its website, where owners can pay tribute to their pets, and a page where people can offer support to other cat owners in similar situations.
The service is available between 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday, except bank holidays. Anyone wishing to use the service can call 0800 024 9494 and a call back service is available if lines are busy. To find out more, please visit www.cats.org.uk/grief
I hope this post on how to support a child when their cat dies has proved useful to you and brings some comfort to you child. Supporting children with their grief is never easy. This post on how to support bereaved children on mothers day explores these ideas further