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Helping Children Cope With the Death of a Pet


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support grieving child over death of petDealing with the loss of a pet can be very difficult for a child. As parents, we hate to see our children hurting and grieving, and we want to be able to explain the loss in a manner that is gentle and kind.

Using the right words

When talking to your children about the death of a pet, it’s important to be honest and clear. Speak to them in a way they can understand. Don’t use euphemisms such as, “put to sleep,” which may confuse or scare your child. “Using the word died is very important,” says Lisa Athan, MA, a grief recovery specialist and executive director of Grief Speaks in Springfield. It conveys finality and allows the child to relate the pet’s death to other known occurrences—in movies, in books, and on TV.

Before telling your child that the pet has died, however, Athan suggests preparing her by saying, “Something very sad has happened,” so the death doesn’t come as a complete shock. Above all, be truthful. “We do a disservice to our children when we shield them from the truth. It makes them distrust us,” states Athan. 

Going to the vet's office

A few years ago, pet loss hit home for Lisa Athan and her four children when their family cat was euthanized. Athan explained the situation to her children in a straightforward, honest manner and involved them in the decision-making process. Three of her four children wanted to go along to the vet’s office. However, her 10-year-old daughter chose to wait in the lobby while Athan and her other two children went into the exam room with the cat.

Don’t make your children feel bad about their decisions regarding the pet’s death and funeral. Often a child’s first experience with death is pet loss. “Many kids will remember how this was handled for the rest of their lives,” says Athan.  

How children of each age group grieve differently—>

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