Last Modified: September 17, 2012
Helping Kids Cope with Loss of a Pet
How can I help my kids cope with the loss of a pet?
Christina Bach, Oncology Social Worker at Penn Medicine, responds:
It is important to be open and honest with your children about what has happened to their cat/dog, while be age appropriate. Young children (under 4) don't always understand the permanency of death, but need to know that their animal will not be returning. Older children do understand more about loss and death and often have many questions about the pet's illness and how the pet died; especially if the pet was euthanized. It's important to inform the children's school/teachers of the loss in the family, as it may impact your child's behavior/performance in school and the teachers and school counselors can provide an additional layer of support.
It is also important to avoid euphemisms like "we put Sparky to sleep." Children do not know how to process that and may develop problems with sleeping.
Help your children with memory making exercises like scrap booking or making a memorial at home for the pet. Kids and adults benefit from being active in their grief, in making sense of the loss and making meaning.
This question and answer was part of the OncoLink Brown Bag Chat Series. View the entire transcript from When a Beloved Pet has Cancer.