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Telling Your Child About a Pet’s Death

It can be very hard for parents to break the news of the death of a pet to their child. A pet’s death is often the first major loss that a child experiences, so it’s only natural for parents to want to cushion the blow for them as much as possible. Some struggle with whether or not to tell the child was has really happened, thinking that perhaps it would be better to provide some other explanation for why their pet is no longer around. 

However, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology recommends being open and honest with children about the death of a pet. You might want to save your child pain now by hiding the truth. But providing vague or untruthful answers can lead to feelings of anxiety, confusion and mistrust later. 

Of course, there are still ways for you as a parent to cushion your child when you tell them about your pet’s death. You don’t need to make your explanations long or complex. Simply love your child through the experience. Pick a familiar, comfortable setting for your conversation. Tell them the news gently, with a soothing voice and manner. Put a loving arm around them. 

Once you’ve told them the bad news, answer their questions simply, honestly and in words that they will easily understand. Give them a chance to talk about their feelings without shame, and share your own feelings. Let them know that it is normal for them to miss their pet and experience grief. Make sure that they know they should come to you with any questions they have later.  

Once you’ve broken the news, you should allow your child to grieve in his or her own way. This could mean holding a burial ceremony for your pet, helping to choose or make a pet memorial, drawing pictures or writing stories and poetry.