How This Vet Talks to Kids About Pet Death

Don't Hold Back Too Much

Give it to them straight. Kids can end up feeling betrayed if they’re left out of the loop — and feelings of betrayal don’t help children to cope and heal.

This doesn’t mean that you have to describe how you found your pet dying under a tree in the yard, but you do have to provide some context — the level of detail will inevitably vary based on your child’s age.

Keeping them informed throughout a pet’s illness also prepares them, so imparting details in real time is equally beneficial.

Do Give Thought to What You'll Say

This is a big sticking point for a lot of people: How do you properly deliver the news that death is near or a pet has passed?

What’s actually spoken depends on the child’s personality, the closeness of the kid-pet relationship, and the child’s age. But as long as you use age-appropriate language, I believe the fundamentals are the same:

Speak plainly, using as few euphemisms as possible. And definitely use the “D” word.

Take the time to discuss your personal beliefs about death.

Share your feelings. However, if possible, it’s always best to save the serious breakdown until after a child's feelings have been squared away.

Be willing to accept aloofness as a sign of a common coping mechanism. Asking for a new pet immediately is another frequent request, so don't take it too hard if this comes up.

Do Allow Them to Be Present

Whether or not kids should be present when a pet is euthanized seems especially fraught for many parents. Indeed, it’s rare for me to see a kid of any age at a euthanasia visit.

Yet I personally think that there’s something off about this.

If it’s within your own personal values and practices to remain present, then I believe it’s also fitting for your children to attend, obviously dependent on personality-specific issues and age-appropriate concerns. In my opinion, however, most kids over the age of reason are good candidates.

I know it sounds harsh, but pets really are practice in a way. After all, the death of a pet is surely a softer blow than the death of a close relative. And I personally believe that when kids learn to ponder death through pet experiences, it tends to make them stronger individuals who process death better when they’re tested later in life.


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