Helping a Child Cope with Pet Loss
Many people do not realize how traumatic and confusing death can be on a child.
Although children tend to grieve for shorter periods of time, their grief is no
less intense than that experienced by adults. Children also tend to comeback to
the subject repeatedly; so extreme patience is required when dealing with the grieving child.
Below are options for caregivers of children to help them through the loss of a beloved pet.
My Pet: A workbook for children about pet loss"
by Katie Nurmi ©
This workbook let's children work through the loss of a pet by teaching the
child that their feelings are impotant and respected. They will also learn that
respect for all living creatures is an important aspect of growing
An Acrobat Reader is needed to view and print this book. Your
browser probably already is set-up to accomadate this PDF file but if not you
can download it by
One of the most touching ways Guardians have used to memorialize their furbabies
after the horrific attack on September 11th., 2001 was adding a US flag at their babies
Rainbow Memorial Residency. Though a small gesture, it was a comfort to many of our Guardians.
Helpful tips for the grieving child include:
1. Giving the child permission to work through their grief.
- Tell their teacher about the pet's death.
- Encourage the child to talk freely about the pet.
- Give the child plenty of hugs and reassurance.
- Discuss death, dying and grief honestly.
2. NEVER say things like "God took your pet," or the pet was "put to sleep."
- The child will learn to fear that God will take them, their parents or their siblings.
- The child will become afraid of going to sleep.
3. Include the child in everything that is going on.
4. Explain the permanency of death.
A childs age determines the perpestive of how they will view the passing of a pet.
The death of a cherished pet creates a sense of loss for adults and produces a predictable chain of emotions.
The stages of grief are typically denial, sadness, depression, guilt, anger, and,
finally, relief (or recovery). However, the effects on children vary widely
depending upon the child's age and maturity level. The basis for their reaction
is their ability to understand death.
Two and Three Year Olds
Children who are two or three years old typically have no understanding of death. They often
consider it a form of sleep. They should be told that their pet has died and will not return.
Common reactions to this include temporary loss of speech and generalized distress.
The two or three year old should be reassured that the pet's failure to return
is unrelated to anything the child may have said or done. Typically, a child in
this age range will readily accept another pet in place of the dead one.
Four, Five, and Six-Year Olds
Children in this age range have some understanding of death but in a way that relates to a continued
existence. The pet may be considered to be living underground while continuing to eat,
breathe, and play.
Alternatively, it may be considered asleep. A return to life may be expected if the child views
death as temporary. These children often feel that any anger they had for the pet may be
responsible for its death. This view should be refuted because they may also
translate this belief to the death of family members in the past.
Some children also see death as contagious and begin to fear that their own death
(or that of others) is imminent. They should be reassured that their death is not likely.
Manifestations of grief often take the form of disturbances in bladder and
bowel control, eating, and sleeping. This is best managed by parent-child
discussions that allow the child to express feelings and concerns. Several
brief discussions are generally more productive than one or two prolonged sessions.
Seven, Eight, and Nine-Year Olds
The irreversibility of death becomes real to these children. They usually do not personalize
death, thinking it cannot happen to them. However, some children may develop concerns about death
of their parents. They may become very curious about death and its
implications. Parents should be ready to respond frankly and honestly to
questions that may arise. Several manifestations of grief may occur in these
children, including the development of school problems, learning problems,
antisocial behavior, hypochondriacal concerns, or aggression. Additionally,
withdrawal, over attentiveness, or clinging behavior may be seen. Based on
grief reactions to loss of parents or siblings, it is likely that the symptoms
may not occur immediately but several weeks or months later.
Ten and Eleven Year Olds
Children in this age range generally understand death as natural, inevitable, and universal.
Consequently, these children often react to death in a manner very similar to adults.
Although this age group also reacts similarly to adults, many adolescents may exhibit various
forms of denial. This usually takes the form of a lack of emotional display. Consequently, these
young people may be experiencing sincere grief without any outward manifestations.
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