This week, Kensington Palace announced that Lupo, William and Kate’s beloved family dog, had passed away. Although the royal couple lives in unimaginable wealth and privilege, right now they’re just parents who have to break the news to their three young children.
For many kids, the loss of a pet is their first brush with mortality. They might be scared or confused as well as sad. Helping them cope with their feelings as you mourn the loss can be an overwhelming prospect.
Let Them Express Grief in Their Own Ways
Your child may react to the loss of a pet in unexpected ways. Some kids immediately go into denial. Some get angry. Others may build a shrine to the pet or insist on an elaborate ceremony to say goodbye. Every child is different, and every child deals with grief and loss in their own way.
There’s no “right” way to behave after losing a pet. It’s especially important to allow kids to be sad. In Western culture, boys are often taught to be strong and not show emotions, but that’s not a healthy way to live.
Keep the Conversation Open
Sometimes, you know that a senior pet’s life is approaching its end. Other times, the loss of a pet is sudden and shocking. In both cases, it’s vital to have ongoing conversations with your kids. You cannot shield them from this lost; your best course is to be honest and answer questions as they process what happened.
You need to gauge your language to suit your child, but try not to rely on comforting lies or vague euphemisms. Children may not understand phrases like “moved on” or “crossed over,” and using such language can make a difficult situation even more incomprehensible.
Very young children may not even understand the core concept, so prepare to have a gentle but frank conversation about it.
Reach Out for Support
While some people might scoff at the idea of being heartbroken over losing a dog, the pain you experience is valid. As James Middleton, Duchess Kate’s brother and the dog breeder who introduce Lupo to their family, wrote on Instagram: “Nothing can ever prepare you for the loss of a dog. For those who have never had a dog, it might be hard to understand the loss. However for those who have loved a dog know the truth: a dog is not just a pet; it is a member of the family, a best friend, a loyal companion, a teacher and a therapist.”
It’s important to surround yourself with people who are supportive during this difficult time. Talking with family or friends who have been through a similar loss can be helpful for both you and your children.
Don’t Rush to Get a New Pet
After losing a pet, it might feel urgent to get another animal right away. You want to fill that space with a new creature to love, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. However, trying to “replace” your lost pet–especially with one that resembles the animal you lost–often does more harm than good.
Be sure that your whole family is ready to welcome a new pet into your lives before making that decision.