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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Tuesday Tips: Helping a Child Deal With Pet Loss

How To Help Your Child Cope With The Death Of A Pet by Joan

The loss of a pet can be a child’s first experience with death. Helping the child cope with grief will help them understand a very painful aspect of life and begin the healing process. The grief they feel when a relationship is severed can be intense and in different ways for each child. They can have a different time line for the grieving process, also. Everything dies….goldfish, great blue whale, a friend and people they love.

Task #1- Talk openly about the pets health and any decisions you make. Never make up stories to prevent them the pain of loss.

Task #2- Be honest and very upfront with your child. Young children will not understand the whole concept of death, they will feel the tremendous loss. Older children will have many questions to be answered. They will ask about plans for the pet’s body, and the concepts of death. Why and How Come?

Task #3- Avoid the commonly used phrase ‘putting to sleep’ It really confuses young children and can cause them to be scared when they are preparing for bed. Night mares, sleep problems.

Task #4- Explain the concept of ‘dog years’ or whatever is applicable to the species of your pet. Make clear statements that mom and dad live in ‘people years’ and you are not going anywhere.

Task #5- Have your veterinarian answer any medical questions your child may have, and about euthanasia.

Task #6-Say Goodbye to the pet in a ceremony to make it official. Bury the pet in a special place; in a garden, under a special tree, his favorite place in the woods (pet cemetery is optional). Let the child say a special saying about their pet, just don’t force them to do so (draw their thoughts in a picture). Place flowers, special items the pet liked with him/her in the grave.

Task #7- Memorialize your pet in a way that is unique for the family and all in agreement.
Plant a tree, flower/flower bulbs, painted rock/grave, write down thoughts in a journal/scrap book. Have your child draw pictures and have them put it in the grave along with the pet.

Task #8- Parents show your grief, so the child will grow to understand their feelings. Sadness needs to be shared, not covered up. You may think this will help the child, but they won’t understand . Crying is okay and its part of the grieving process. Even for men and boys!

Task #9- Remember children can act out and be angry because they don’t understand why they feel this way, or just the whole death process. Sit and be a good listener, let them cry

Task #10- Share the loss with their teachers, caregivers, friends and family. Remember some non-pet people don’t understand why your family are so emotional on a pet. They don’t have the bond we have had with a family pet. Try to reach out to other pet owners.
If you see abnormal behavior, depression, and school grades drop with your child, seek professional help. Don’t think its silly for special help.

Here is a list of good books when a pet has passed away:

Children’s books
The Tenth Good Things About Barney
By Judith Viorst

I’ll Still Love You
By Hans Wilhelm

Reference-Adult Reading
Goodbye Friend
By Gary Kowalski

Absent Friend
Laura Lee

Sometimes It Breaks Your Heart
By Dr. Richard Orzeck

Here is an excellent site on-line to get help and advice. I help in this site and they do wonderful things and its safe for the whole family.
Grief support, Monday night candle ceremony, Rainbow Bridge
(where pets go when they die),chat room, advice.

‘Monday Night Candle Ceremony’ is an awesome thing to look up. It’s a healing ritual with no adherence to any religion, creed. It’s a lighting of candles to bring the pet owners together. It’s a beautiful thing to attend and for children. You need a pc, candles for each pet who has passed on and plenty of Kleenex’s. You don’t have to attend just once, you can attend as long as you want to on Mondays. You will see lots of people typing memories of their pets and a time of silence. Go to the site for times for your time zone.
It’s a beautiful ceremony.
“Time will heal the pain and you will hold a special spot in your heart for the furbabie you lost!”

By: Nanny Joan ( - desertrosewolf)
Memories in my life, who passed on…
Taffy, Foxy Sadie, Sheena, Desert Rose, and Sneakers

Joan Kramer, lives in Fulton Illinois with her husband. They have 7 children and three grand children. She is a professional nanny in Iowa to 2 boys ages 3 and 18 months.
Joan owned and taught preschool out of her home for 25 years and was also an assistant director in a child care in a local university. Her hobbies outside of work are family and riding her horse.
She also helps at
She enjoys building websites.


Lisa August 4, 2009 at 9:45 AM  

This is a great article. I just have one suggestion to make though, for those bigger pets (we had to put down an old BIG dog a few months ago) find out what laws/ordinances there may be in your community regarding animal burial. We had this much loved pet cremated.

janstclair August 5, 2009 at 7:27 AM  

Thanks for this resource! I'm glad to have this article and available when the issue arises again.

The Tenth Good Thing About Barney is a good book, but has some flaws, including insistance on looking at the good side during all the stages of grief, and only one parent seeming engaged with the child.

Excellent general picture books to explain death to children are "Lifetimes: the Beautiful Way to Explain Death To Children" (Bryan Mellonie) and "The Fall of Freddie the Leaf" (Buscalia).

If a family pet is dying or has died, your local children's librarian either has a list of related picture books in your library's children's room, or can show you a reference book that lists picture books in that category that you can look for. Just ask. There are any number of books that deal with death of a pet, either by old age or accident, and there are stories about cats, dogs, parakeets, etc. The books are either religious and secular in nature, deal with the loss in various ways, and there are bound to be several that would be right for helping your child. Just browse through what's there and select the ones that fit your family's approach.

A particularly good book about a dog killed in a car accident is "The Accident" by Carol Carrick. It's out of print, but available in used book sites. All the adults are caring and are clearly doing all they can...including being silently nearby when appropriate, as the child goes through grief, anger, denial, etc.

Thanks for dealing with this issue.

Anonymous August 5, 2009 at 8:37 PM  

There's also a Mr. Roger's book about the death of pets. My mom has done a workshop in NY about death and dying for years and the Mr. Roger's book is the one she usually starts out with when she's doing the workshop with young children. She also uses the Freddie The Leaf book, it's another very good one.

djeterfann2 August 6, 2009 at 8:38 PM  

What a great article :) Loved it!
I love the part about not saying putting it to sleep. You know I never really thought about that term affecting children till I read that. Very smart advice. Not just forkids either. When I lost my dog lots of those tips would have helped. :)Thanks Joan for a great article. Jenn wwn owner

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