Talking with Your Child About the Death of a Pet

September 16th, 2013 posted by Diane Cantrell

Talking with Your Child About the Death of a Pet

The loss of a family pet can be a traumatic time for everyone, but the grief can be especially difficult for children. Death is a tough topic for many parents to discuss with their kids, but it’s an important conversation to have. Often, the death of a family pet is a child’s first real experience with loss, and it lends parents an opportunity to emerge as role models for their children to prepare them for life’s unexpected turns. Child development specialist and licensed counselor Diane Cantrell says no matter how young they are, children need to know that the grieving process is normal.

Many times, kids don’t have the language or ability to conceptualize the feelings that they are going through, and they look to their parents for guidance. Cantrell recently authored a children’s picture book, “Goodbye, Baby Max” (Bridgeway Books, February 2008) as a tool for parents to discuss loss and death with young kids. Along with original illustrations, “Goodbye, Baby Max” tells the story of a kindergarten class that loses their classroom pet, a baby chick named Max who never hatched from his shell. With the help of their teacher, Mrs. B, the students learn to express their feelings and plan a special goodbye.

Also a former pre-k/kindergarten teacher, Cantrell says there are three important things that parents and teachers can do to help children deal with painful loss:

1. Listen, validate and reassure.

Be patient in answering repeated questions and assure children that it is normal for them to feel mad, sad, or afraid and tearful. If your child expresses worry or sadness, you can provide validation by telling them that you feel sad as well. While acknowledging feelings, be sure to let the child know that, even though the feelings may be overwhelming, they can handle them.

2. Observe.

Play close attention to your child’s play, artwork and behavior, for these are the blueprints to their feelings and concerns. Remember, children ages 4 to 6 don’t have the language to express complex emotions but do so through their play and behavior. Notice any themes that may emerge in your child’s play and artwork. Also be aware of behavior changes such as increased aggressiveness, anger or withdrawal. These are signs that your child is having a difficult time with the loss.

3. Engage.

Provide opportunities to engage your child in conversation about the loss. Reading fictional picture books that address grief and loss can serve as valuable springboards for discussion. Having your child tell about their artwork can also lead to meaningful interactions. Assist the child in planning a special good-bye for their pet. It may be a traditional funeral or a memorial in which the children draw pictures for the pet, make gifts, and or take a special walk in the pet’s honor. Children have many good ideas about how they wish to say good-bye to their special family friend. Be sure to ask, listen, and assist in the implementation of these ideas.

Diane Cantrell (1 Posts)

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Cindy Rowe
Cindy Rowe (7 Posts)

Cindy Rowe is the owner/editor of Crazylou Creations blog. On the blog, you will find a little bit of crazy, and a whole lot of fun! As a FT working mother, she still finds time to create crafts, play around in the kitchen, plan parties and exercise. You'll find all of this and more on her blog!

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