How To Talk to Your Child About a Pet Dying - Baby Chick
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How To Talk to Your Child About a Pet Dying

The death of a beloved pet is difficult for adults and children alike. Here's how to talk to your child about a pet dying.

Published December 29, 2021

by Lauren Flake

Additional contribution by Rachel Tomlinson

Registered Psychologist

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Talking to your child about a pet dying can be challenging. My family said goodbye to two beloved elderly dogs in recent years. My young daughters never knew life without these canine companions; losing them was tough!

I felt like I already knew grief and loss well. My mother died when I was pregnant with my youngest daughter, and my grandfather died a few years later. However, exploring death and dying with my child hit differently, partly because they couldn’t understand the permanence of death but also because I had to help them manage the big feelings that came as a result.1 Let’s go over how you can navigate this conversation with your child.

How To Talk to Your Child About a Pet Dying

Often, the loss of a pet is a child’s first significant experience with death. It is a good idea to prepare your children for the inevitability of a pet’s death before the time comes, if possible. Here are some strategies to help you have a conversation about death and dying:1,2,3

1. Be a Safe Space for Your Child

Be calm and supportive with your kids when a pet dies. Allow your child to ask questions and answer them honestly, only using enough detail for their age level. Show them you are here to comfort them in their grief.

2. Try to Be Direct

When talking about a pet dying, be direct with your kids. Avoid using euphemisms for death that may confuse them. Keep in mind that it’s not until around age 4 that children begin to understand the finality of death.4

3. Validate Your Child’s Emotions

It is important to validate your child’s initial reactions to their loss. Negative emotions like sadness, anger, and fear are normal, healthy responses to losing someone or something you love. Let your children see your sadness, as well. Reassure them that grief is okay and necessary — it is a natural consequence of our love.

4. Respect That Everyone Grieves Differently

Every child will go through the stages of grief differently. My youngest daughter did most of her crying before the actual loss occurred when we explained that it was time to say goodbye to our first dog. My oldest daughter was stoic until the night following our first dog’s euthanasia. I ended up lying with her as she cried herself to sleep.

5. Don’t Rush Grief

The goal in grief is to eventually move away from our feelings of sadness, anger, and fear and toward feelings of gratitude, peace, and acceptance (remember that accepting something doesn’t necessarily mean you have to like it). Unfortunately, there is no standard timeline for that process. And trying to rush yourself or your child through the grieving process will surely backfire. Also, don’t rush to fill the gap in their life; children might fear that their old pet will be forgotten or that getting a new pet cancels out the love they had for the old one. Don’t replace their pet with a new one without their input.

6. Read Books to Your Kids About a Pet Dying

Reading picture books for kids about losing a pet can help you start conversations with younger children. My top recommendations for children’s books about a pet dying are:

I particularly like “The Invisible Leash” because it reminds children that their love for their pet is an unbreakable bond. The book reassures kids that death cannot break that connection. The simplicity and bright colors of “The Goodbye Book” work best for the youngest readers.

7. Help Your Child Honor Their Pet

You can do many activities with your child to honor the memory of their beloved pet. Ask them to draw a picture of or write a poem about their pet. Help them plant a tree or rose bush in their pet’s memory. Donate their pet’s toys and bed to an animal shelter together. (An older child may even want to volunteer at an animal shelter, eventually.) Frame their pet’s collar and a special photo of them in a shadow box. Find a stuffed animal (or order a custom one) that looks like their pet. You could even purchase a statue that looks like their pet for your backyard. It is important to consider your child’s input in how you honor their pet.

Remind Your Child That Love Never Ends

Over time, you can help your children focus on good memories of their pets. Share your happy memories or funny stories about the pet with your child. Help them find gratitude for the happy times they spent together and the love they shared. And remind them that love never ends.

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Lauren Flake is a wife, mom to two girls, watercolor artist, seventh-generation Texan, and early-onset Alzheimer's daughter. She is the author and co-illustrator of two award-winning children's books for grieving… Read more

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