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January 17th, 2012
January 17th, 2012

Parenting: Coping with the loss of a pet

An expert says that losing a pet can be even harder on kids.

January 17,2 012 (WPVI) -- Over just a six month period we lost both of our sweet dogs. They were important members of our family for about 15 years.

Maggie and Kahla were pound rescues that won our hearts.

We treated them like our own children and even got portraits done through our family photographer Barry Cox.

I recently spoke with an expert who says that losing a pet can be even harder on kids. In many cases it´s the first time they´re dealing with the loss of someone that they see every day.

As a parent, I know it can be difficult to help your child deal with loss, especially when you´re not quite sure what to say.

Michele Pich is a grief counselor for the University of Pennsylvania´s Ryan Veterinary Hospital. She helps families cope with loss.

Pich says children under five have difficulty understanding permanency and that their pet are gone for good.

Children from five to nine years old may blame themselves. Parents should reassure them that they didn´t do anything wrong but there is nothing that can be done to bring their pet back.

Once they´re 10-years-old Pich says, "Children tend to go through similar grief reactions as adults. They go through bargaining, anger and denial. That may be a time to consider whether you need to reach out for additional support."

Pich suggests memorializing your pet in some way. Drawing pictures and sharing memories will help your children to open up about their grief.

When we went through this, we weren´t sure if we should be honest with our children. Pich suggest being as honest as possible, warning that if you use euphemisms like "put to sleep", your child may be afraid to go to sleep, fearing the same thing will happen to them.

In our house, the kids are always asking when we will get another pet. Pich says many families rush into another pet before they´re ready, assuming it will help.

Instead, she suggests dealing with the loss fully and waiting until the entire family is ready for another.

(see the ABC video on this topic: )

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