Health and Science News for Parents

How to explain to kids the passing of a pet

written by Guest Author

Today’s post is a guest post is from Hank McKinsey, a stay-at-home-dad blogger at Home By Hank. While the research literature does not contain much on helping children process the death of a pet, Hank has pulled together what is known from research about grief and child development in general to offer some tips.

Talking to your children about death is a scary topic. For many families the topic will first come up when a beloved family pet passes away. While this is certainly heartbreaking for many families, it is a great opportunity to take the time to talk to your children and teach them healthy ways to cope with their loss. Here are a few tips to help make the conversation a little easier:

Creating a memorial box can be one way to help children cope with the loss of a pet. Photo provided by Hank McKinsey.

Creating a memorial box can be one way to help children cope with the loss of a pet. Photo provided by Hank McKinsey.

Talk to your child beforehand, if possible: If your family pet is very old or very sick, you can help your child prepare for the loss of their pet by talking about what will happen before your family pet passes away. While this may seem morbid, by being honest and not hiding the truth, you are helping your children understand that all living things will eventually die. By helping them accept the passing as early as possible can make the grieving process a little easier. There are many resources available that can help guide this conversation.  Encourage your child to say goodbye and get their cuddles in while they are still able to.

Encourage your child to grieve: When an adored family pet passes away, young children may not understand why they can’t play with their favorite pal anymore. If your child cries, has nightmares, or seems very sad for a little while, recognize that this is pretty normal behavior. They may even want to sleep with one of their pet’s favorite toys. While these are all very normal parts of grieving, do make sure you encourage your child to get out and play. You may want to talk to a doctor if you are concerned that their grief seems more severe than typical.

Expect questions:  The hardest part for many parents is fielding questions about the death of the pet. “Did she feel pain?” “When is he going to wake up so we can play together again?” “Where do our pets go after they die?” And even “Are you (or am I) going to die too?” These questions are not only totally normal, they are a great segment into discussing the loss of a pet. Your answers should be truthful and succinct, as your child will take time to process your answers and come back later if they need any more information.

Remember to use simple language and help your child understand that just because their favorite pet cannot be with them anymore, they can always remember them and talk about them. Encourage your child to come to you with questions or concerns. Many times the security of knowing you will be there to answer their questions is helpful in helping them move on.

Create a memorial: Consider hosting a funeral or memorial service for the beloved family pet. You could include photos, video and handmade crafts. Encourage your children to tell about their favorite memories and say goodbye to their pet. You may consider burying your pet in your backyard.

Another simple idea that can help children grieve is to use a pet memorial box, like the one found here. Encourage your children to include their pet’s favorite toy, photos and other items that remind them of their lost pet. When your child feels sad they can sit down and look at all the items in the box to help them have happy memories about their pet.

Don’t get a new pet right away:  You may think that purchasing another pet for your child right away would be helpful. But, this is rarely the case. Allow your child the chance to be sad about the loss of their friend and broach the subject of a new pet when you feel they are ready to consider it.

The loss of a pet is a sad event. For young children it can be confusing and scary as well. By taking the time to help your little one say goodbye to their friend and teaching them that it’s okay to be sad will make the grieving process easier.


Hank McKinsey is a lifestyle and DIY blogger based out of central California.  When he’s not crafting or blogging, he can be found playing tennis or lounging with his dogs.  Follow Hank on Google + here.

It's only fair to share...Email this to someoneShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on LinkedInPin on PinterestShare on RedditShare on StumbleUponTweet about this on Twitter

2 Responses to “How to explain to kids the passing of a pet”

  1. Dorit Reiss

    Thank you. While not a pet, my father died unexpectedly recently, and my son is asking questions. This will help me with that, too.

  2. […] fantastic blog post about explaining the death of a pet to a […]

Shot@Life Join the Movement

Great Links

Tag Cloud