Talking to kids about a pet's death

I had to do this for my son and I teach about how to do this for Humanist families.


Our cat died when he my son was 4. He was more upset about the cat dying then he was about his grandfather dying when he was 3. Probably because he didn’t see his grandfather that often. He does still cry about his grandfather, but not the cat.

The first thing is to be honest. Don’t use euphemisms.  The pet is dead.

2nd: Don’t lie to them about what death is. No the pet isn’t coming back.

3rd: Don’t replace the pet until after the grief process is over. If you do it too soon, this will interrupt the grief process for your child. Don’t do that to them. Your child may beg for a replacement pet. What they are trying to do is bargain their way out of death and the emotions they are experiencing. This isn’t really possible – so don’t pretend it is. Your child needs to learn to cope with death – as we all do. And for them to learn they have to experience the reality of what death is and that there is no coming back from it and that you can’t replace your lost loved one, you just have to learn how to live without them.  This may seem cruel, but it is actually quite compassionate.  Why is in #4.

4th: Allow the child to grieve. Our instincts when our child is suffering is to take away their pain. Don’t do that. Allow your child to grieve. Your child can handle it. More importantly – they need to learn how to handle it AND that they CAN handle it. What a child learns from grief is that it hurts. A lot. But that the emotions eventually pass.  You can survive this. You don’t need to be afraid of your emotions. You can handle your emotions. Even the really super incredibly painful ones. Do NOT deny your child this experience and this opportunity to learn how to cope with their emotions. The only way to help a child grow up into an emotionally mature adult – is to help them practice learning about their emotions.  Grief – can’t be tamed. You just have to experience it and it does eventually pass. That is so incredibly important to learn and a child – if given the opportunity – will learn it – and having learned it – no longer fear it.

My son was super distraught when our cat died. He went through all the stages. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  It took him about 3 days.  It was painful to watch him struggle, but him being sad – and accepting the loss as permanent – is success. My son learned about the permanency of death, that there is no point in getting angry. There is no point bargaining. All we can do is miss our loved one.   That – is a healthy response to death.  And it has translated to his other experiences. He was upset when my dad died – we all were, but he didn’t try to bargain or get angry. He just – grieved.

The final thing I would let people know about is – kids will ask a lot of questions about death. You may think they have become death obsessed. And they have. Death is a difficult concept to understand. Why it happens. When it happens. Will it happen to me?  These are questions everyone wrestles with. Your child is no exception. Be patient and help them understand death. By showing interest in it yourself, you will be helping them to not fear death – and to understand  - death – as unpleasant as it is for survivors, is natural and it happens and  - grief is natural, normal and nothing to be afraid of – just part of the experience of life.

I offer a free short online course on this – no registration required: https://humanistlearning.com/how-to-talk-to-your-child-about-death/



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