Information: Children and Grief

This is general information – every child and family are different please take any useful information and leave the rest.

For many kids losing a pet is their first time dealing with loss and grief. It can also be very confronting for parents who are also grieving a pet too.

Being honest and open about what is happening helps support your child. Death is an important part of life and while it is tough to watch your child go through this – you are helping them understand their world and helping them know they can deal with the tough times. Every child and family are different, and it is important to let them show or tell you what they need.

Remember to use clear unambiguous wording. It is important to be clear that they pass away and die. Using the term ‘go to sleep’ can be confusing as some kids might worry, they won’t wake up when they go to sleep, or be confused or worried if they need an anaesthetic themselves. With my own kids I have used phrases like ‘we will help him to die peacefully’. Telling a child that their animal has gone to live somewhere else including at the farm or with the vet is also confusing for them and potentially stressful for the vet team when a child comes in asking after their pet. Kids are amazing and resilient and deserve to know the truth and be supported.

Here are some ways that kids can be involved or might choose to grieve:

  • Be present at the euthanasia – we are always happy to support kids being present when they want to.
  • Choose not to be present – your pet will always have someone with them and have pats when they pass away whether or not you can be there.
  • Choose to see the body afterwards and sit with them, or choose not to.
  • Many kids find the process of burying a pet and giving them a ‘funeral’ helpful. This can be as simple as lining the grave with fresh grass and flowers, choosing a plant to put on top, choosing a rock or some flowers to put on a grave. Some older kids might want to say a few words about their pet what they liked doing and why they loved them.
  • Having a pet cremated is an option when you don’t have a back yard and while you can keep ashes in an urn, sometimes the act of placing those ashes in favourite, sunny or significant spot can be helpful
  • Draw a picture together of your pet or print a photo. Find a frame together and a place to put it.

Your child might ask you for another pet to replace them. This is totally normal and not a lack of empathy. Kids are at different stages of brain development and will understand and experience the loss in different ways.

They may want to talk about it or visit the grave.

Let their teacher and grown ups who are part of your child's support network know about their loss.

Talking about their pet with their friends is a great way to get support.

It can be tough to manage your own grief while supporting a young person – remember to reach out for help and support yourself.

If your child struggles with anxiety or is neurodiverse – reach out to their support network including teachers and psychologists to help you support them.

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