Psychologist Eleanor Mackey shares tips on how to teach your child to cope with the loss of a loved stuffed animal.
L has been attached to her bunny lovey since she was about 8 months old. When we saw her getting attached, we ordered one replacement and then another, but she could distinguish among them (even when we couldn’t), and the original one was always prized.
L loved her “Smiling Bunny,” or as we referred to its fraying smile as “Sad Bunny,” and she went with her everywhere. I know many families make a “lovey stays in the house” policy to avoid this very catastrophe, but for us, having her friend come with her where she went was good for L.
Smiling Bunny comforted L when she was upset, celebrated with her when she was happy, and helped her through many transitions. She was the first thing L looked for in the morning and she always slept closest to L through the night. She was also L’s alter ego. Recently when we would tell her no she would say, “But Smiling Bunny says it’s okay!”
Our catastrophe happened last weekend when L must have dropped Smiling Bunny on the street when we were getting her into the car. We realized it when we got home and immediately went back, but she was gone. I put up fliers, posted to neighborhood listserves, searched the area myself for hours, and even called the city trash, but nothing turned up our little friend.
My heart broke for my little girl and thinking about how hard it would be for her to lose her lovey. She surprised me by taking it well. We sprang into action and below are a few things we did that seemed to help.
- We told her that we had dropped Smiling Bunny and another little girl saw her and needed a bunny so she took her home. L announced she was proud that she was sharing Smiling Bunny.
- We asked if she wanted a new Smiling Bunny. This made her excited so we went to the store and let her choose.
- To welcome the new Smiling Bunny we had L help us make cupcakes and we invited some friends over for a party to welcome our new family member.
- We asked L if she wanted a picture of her old Smiling Bunny so we are framing one and putting it in her room.
- We’ve also been told that having L dictate letters to Smiling Bunny and having her write back could be fun.
It’s important to strike a balance between remembering and moving on, so we’re letting L guide this. When she talks about her old Smiling Bunny, we listen. We refer to the new Smiling Bunny in exactly the same way as the old and keep her focused on her new friend as well.
As sad as this has been, it is a good way to help a child learn to cope with loss. Teaching a child how to appropriately grieve and then move on can be a skill they take with them for life. As a parent, tolerating my child’s sadness has also been challenging but a good lesson that she’s more resilient than I thought.
For good books for children, the Knuffle Bunny series by Mo Willems is excellent when dealing with the subject of a lost lovey.