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Children In Grief

Children’s Pet Caregiving Workshops coming!

Watching your parents take care of a sick pet can be hard. Your parents are not only taking care of you, they’re also pet caregiving. That may mean giving your sick pet medications, going to the veterinarian a lot, and many other things that have to be done to help relieve your pet’s pain and live a better quality of life.
It may even seem like they are concentrating more on the sick pet than on you. It can be hard to understand what’s going on with your pet and why your parents are so upset.

Kids have a lot of feelings and emotions, and when they see that their pet is ill, they need to know its ok to cry and ask questions.

Day By Day suggests kids talk to their parents about their feelings or they can draw or write their emotions down on paper. Day By Day is currently collaborating on a coloring book for kids to help you understand what’s going on with your pet, and in the near future we’re adding ‘just for kids’ workshops on pet caregiving – check back for details.

Toddlers & Preschoolers

Children this age may not understand that death is the finality to life. They are often confused by their grief and, therefore, ask a lot of questions. The best way to help toddlers and preschoolers is to encourage them to explore their feelings creatively through art and play.

Toddlers & Preschoolers

Children this age may not understand that death is the finality to life. They are often confused by their grief and, therefore, ask a lot of questions. The best way to help toddlers and preschoolers is to encourage them to explore their feelings creatively through art and play.

School Age- 6+

The realization that death is permanent usually happens around age 8. It’s important to provide children in this age group with honest information and include them in the decision-making process. It’s ok to let them see you mourn your grief because it gives you valuable “teaching moments” for lessons on how to cope with loss.


Teenagers are generally self-conscious and often struggling to mature in their own space, apart from the watchful eye of their parents. This may cause them to prefer to grieve in private. As much as we want to be their best supporters, teens may tend to look to their peers for emotional support. If teens suppress grief and not mourn their loss, they can become depressed. So it’s best to encourage them to express their grief, if not to you, then to their friends.

Considerations for children of all ages

  • Pet loss is often a child’s first experience with death.
  • Honesty is the best policy when talking with children about death. Children do not want to be lied to and therefore be left out of what’s going on in the household.
  • Children grieve as deeply as adults.
  • The whole family can grieve together and emerge stronger from the experience.
  • Ensure that the significant adults in your child’s life (such as babysitters and teachers) are aware of the loss. These adults can also help your child process his or her grief over the loss of a beloved pet.

Q. “When your parents are taking care of your pet, do you do anything special to help out?”

A. The kids we talked to said they help bring their dogs’ beds downstairs each morning, walk their dogs each evening … and clean up after their dogs by telling Mommy and Daddy if one of pets has had a accident in the house.

Q. “What do you do to help make life easier around your home for your pet when he is not feeling well?”

A. Kids say they can fluff the dogs’ beds, pet the dogs and rub their tummies.

Q. “Has having a pet with special needs changed you in any way or made you stronger?”

A. One child we talked to said having these special needs dogs have totally changed his life because when he was in China they didn’t have any dog’s to take care of but now that he is in America, they do.
Other kids understand that the dogs need them and they appreciate having them in their lives. One little boy said that he’s stronger because he helps take care of them. He says he now wants to be a doggie doctor because he wants to “heal” all pets.

Q. “What upsets you the most about seeing your pet when he is not feeling well?”

A. What upsets the kids we talked to the most is that when one or more of the dogs is having a tough day, their parents are upset and that in turn upsets them. They are fearful of when their pet may die. They don’t understand what that will mean to their family.

Q. “If you had one thing you could wish for to make your pet feel better, what would it be?”

A. All agreed that more/better medications and better cancer treatments is what they would wish for. They really wish the dogs wouldn’t get older. All wish they would live longer.

Q. “What do you do when you are upset about your pet’s health?”

A. Each handles emotions differently. One might cry in his room or come and try and comfort his parent. Others try to ignore the issue and pretend nothing is wrong.

Q. “What do you do when you are upset about your pet’s health?”

A. Once again, all agree that talking about their feelings makes them feel better because they get their feelings out. Then others like their parents can help them. If they keep their sad and fearful feelings inside, they won’t feel better. They pray the dogs will be “healed.” They see how hard their parents work to give the pet care, and they hope it will make a difference. They have hope and that helps their family get through it all, day by day.


How to talk to your child

Talking openly and honestly to your child about a pet’s illness or death means sharing your own feelings. Children of different ages may react differently to a pet’s illness or death. A child may fear that what happened to his pet might also happen to him, or to his parents or siblings. None of us are invincible and can’t live forever.
The death of a pet can help children understand their own mortality.

Guilt and confusion

Some children may ask, “Did the pet go away because I pulled its tail or yelled at it?” “Was it my fault that our pet is gone?” “Will our pet come back if I promise to be good?” Never imply that death of a pet is a child’s fault or give the impression that the separation isn’t permanent. Saying things like “Our pet went away because he didn’t like it here anymore,” can leave a child with unnecessary confusion and guilt.

If the child does not understand that the pet can never come back, he may decide to wait loyally for the pet to return and may not accept another pet into the home.

Some tips:

  • Share children’s books from the library with your kids that deal with having a sick pet and/or deal with a pet’s death.
  • Explain your pet’s illness or condition by helping the child learn as much as possible about it. A child that observes a pet’s illness and is prepared for the inevitable can develop a better understanding of the dying process.
  • Pave the way for the child in coping with the inevitable by having discussions about your own feelings.
  • Be open and receptive to any questions and concerns that your child may have.
  • Encourage children to ask the veterinarian questions that they may have.
  • Involve children as much as possible in decisions about the pet’s illness and death.
  • Avoid euphemisms like, “put to sleep” which can be frightening and confusing to young children who associate sleep with going to bed.
  • Teach your child how to express grief in healthy ways, by talking or writing or drawing, without shame or embarrassment.