Helping a Child Cope

The loss of a family pet can be a child's first experience with death. Helping children cope with grief will help them understand a very painful aspect of life and begin the healing process.

  • Talk about the pet's health and any decisions to be made prior to the animal's death, if possible.

  • Respond to your children honestly and age appropriately. While young children will not understand the concept of death, they will feel a tremendous loss. Older children may want to discuss the decline of the pet's health, plans for the body and the concept of death itself.
  • Avoid the commonly used phrase "putting to sleep". This phrase can confuse young children, and even scare them as they prepare to go to bed at night.
  • Try to explain the concept of "dog years" or whatever is applicable to the species of your family pet. But make it clear that Mom and Dad live in "people years" and are not going anywhere.
  • Ask your veterinarian to answer any medical questions for your children. Older children may have questions about euthanasia, how it is done, what the pet will feel, what equipments is used and what happens to the animal's body.
  • Say goodbye to the pet in a ceremony to make it official.
  • Memorialize your pet in a way that is unique to your family. Plant a tree in the garden, write down thought about fun times spent with the pet, draw pictures, or hang a photo of the pet in your home for all to share.
  • Show your own grief. Children will grow to understand their own feelings better if they see that their sadness is shared by other family members.
  • Share the loss with your children's teachers or counselors to explain changes in behavior

In this section

Pet Memorialization

Stages of Grief

Helping a Child Cope

Pet Obituaries

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