Helping children understand the concept of death through the loss of a beloved pet.

Julia Dicconson
Content Manager
September 14, 2023

Losing a pet can be a profoundly emotional experience, but can be particularly hard on kids. It's often their first encounter with the concept of death, and it’s likely the pet has been there for their entire life. As parents or caregivers, it's essential to help them navigate this difficult journey and help them understand the finality of death. 

In this article, we'll explore how to assist children in understanding death through the loss of a pet.

How to talk about death with children.

You might want to avoid using the word death, opting for other phrases, but that might not be the best way to explain what is happening. Kids need honest, simple information about death, no matter how hard it feels to talk about. 

Explaining death in simple terms.

Your child needs your help to understand death. So it’s best to explain what has happened as simply and truthfully as you can. For example, ‘I have some sad news. Baxter died this morning’.

Use gentle and age-appropriate language.

When discussing death with children, you want to use simple and gentle language that matches their age and comprehension level. Avoid euphemisms like "gone to sleep" or "gone away" as they may lead to confusion. 

For example, a child who is told that ‘Baxter has gone to sleep forever’ might get scared of sleeping because they’re afraid they’ll never wake up.The process will be much harder if your child doesn’t understand the finality of death, but also that there’s nothing to be afraid of.

Be honest and direct.

Children are perceptive and can sense when something is being kept from them. It's best to be honest and direct about the situation, explaining that the pet's body has stopped working and won't come back.

Encourage them to embrace their emotions.

Encourage expression of feelings.

Children may experience a range of emotions when dealing with the loss of a pet - sadness, anger, confusion, or even guilt. Encourage them to express their feelings openly and reassure them that it's okay to grieve.

Share your emotions.

By showing your own emotions, you demonstrate to your child that it's natural to feel sad when someone you love passes away. It can also help in bonding during this tough period. Show them that it’s okay to be sad, and sadness can exist alongside other emotions as well, an example could be; ‘You might be feeling really happy but then remember something about Baxter that makes you sad, and that’s okay.’

Creating closure and memorialising.

Hold a memorial service.

Organise a simple memorial service for your pet, allowing your child to say goodbye. This ritual can provide closure and a sense of finality. You might want to hold a service in the backyard, asking your child to speak about their love for their pet. 

Create a memorial.

Help your child create a memorial for the pet, such as a scrapbook with pictures and memories or a shrine of photos and their favourite toys. This can serve as a tangible reminder of the good times they shared, and a way to keep the pet close to their heart.

Read: 5 pet memorial ideas to honour your pet’s life.

Life after loss.

Discuss the circle of life.

Explain the concept of the circle of life, emphasising that all living things have a natural lifespan. You might want to talk about how long different animals tend to live for, as well as people, however be mindful of discussing age of death if they have elderly people in their life, e.g. grandparents. 

Is it time to get a new pet?

There’s no right or wrong answer to when it is time to find a new pet after the loss of your last one, but it’s important to work through your grief first. If not, this can cause issues for both you and your new friend.

Don’t rush into the decision of choosing a new pet, and don’t view them as a replacement pet. You’ll get to form a new relationship with this pet, where new memories can be created.

If you do decide to get a new pet in the weeks or months after your loss, talk to your child about what this means, and how they shouldn’t expect this new pet to be anything like your previous one. You’re not replacing them, but instead welcoming another furry friend into your home.

Final thoughts on children understanding the death of their pet.

Losing a pet is a poignant lesson in understanding death for children. As adults, it's our responsibility to guide them through this experience with honesty, compassion, and love. By explaining death in simple terms, embracing emotions, creating closure and memorialising and discussing life after loss, we can help children cope with the loss of a beloved pet in a healthy and constructive manner.

Further reading.

Don’t wait until the very end. It’s important to consider your pet’s end-of-life journey early, so that you, your family and your pet are all supported through the process.

When the time comes, we’re here for you. Goodbye Good Boy provides a range of end-of-life services to make the difficult process of saying goodbye a little easier. 

We offer quality of life assessments from qualified vets, specialist grief counselling, at home euthanasia from dedicated end of life veterinarians, as well as cremation services and memorial options to help remember your pet for their unique character.

We are with you at every step of the journey.

To find out more, you can call our team of passionate pet lovers on 1800 953 619.