What to Do
Offer extra love and support. Toddlers need reassurance during times of stress that their needs will be met and they will be loved and taken care of. They look to you to reassure them that everything is okay. The death of a pet will no doubt rock your day-to-day happenings—you may have frequently walked your pet with your toddler. If that was part of your day, continue to go out on walks together to maintain this routine; it's okay to talk about your pet then, but try and keep a balance and avoid over-talking when your child is this age.
Help kids name their feelings when they ask about their pet: "I know you miss him." If your child appears sad related to the death of the pet, help her find words that convey those feelings: "I know it makes you sad when I tell you Spot isn't coming back. I love you very much and I know Spot does too"; "Mommy feels sad too that Spot isn't here." (Read more about opening an emotional dialogue with your child.)
Celebrate the pet's life with your child. Again, children and pets can develop incredibly close relationships in the short time they have together—young children may find it comforting to talk about fun memories of your pet and keep pictures that you have up in your house. Older children, preschool and school age can benefit from drawing pictures or having a simple memorial in the backyard. (Learn how to create a memory basket.)
Don't rush to remove all traces of the pet. Pictures will allow everyone to remember and express feelings about your family's loss.
Mind your own feelings! Chances are, you're even more distraught about the loss of your animal than your child—and with good reason! Our lives are made more full by our animal-babies, especially when those animals predate your own child. Take good care of yourself, allowing time to mourn and celebrate the time you had with your pet, and ask for help with your family from other relatives as necessary.
More help for families:
- What to Say and Do When a Pet Dies by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists
- More help for families
This information is intended to be a conversation starting point and not to replace consultation with a mental health professional. Knowing your child the way you do, adjust or edit this script and these recommendations to meet his or her needs and comprehension. If you have concerns about your toddler, contact your pediatrician and request a referral for a mental health professional who specializes in work with young children. Click here to find help for working with your child through this and other touchy topics.