Your Parenting Info Sign Up

How to Help a Preschooler When a Family Pet Dies

by Margot F. | September 2nd, 2014 | Preschool, Social

file000809993098The death of a pet can be traumatic for preschoolers. How can you help the youngster through this challenging time? When is it appropriate to get another pet?

When the family dog dies, everyone tends to feel sad. If the adults had acquired the dog as a pup and looked after the animal for many years, understandably it is sad to take the last trip to the vet. A two- to five-year-old who has grown up with Fido will be deeply attached and have trouble understanding why the dog is dying.

Every child is different and each situation deserves special consideration. It is important to take the time and have the patience to talk to your child in language the child can understand. Regardless of the child’s age, tell the truth but only give as much information as the child can handle. “Fido is tired and needs to sleep now” may be appropriate for very young children while a five-year-old might need to know about the vet giving a needle so the dog can sleep peacefully.

How a child grieves depends in part on age and the relationship with the pet. Because cats tend to be aloof, the death of an elderly feline might have little impact. However, dogs are people oriented and more likely to have a closer relationship with a younger child.

A three- to five-year-old who has grown up with a dog following him everywhere could be devastated when the animal dies. Finding verbal expression difficult, the child might act up, especially around bedtime when the dog would have been close by and everyone is tired.

To help the child feel safe, it is important to maintain the usual bedtime routine as much as possible. If falling asleep is very challenging for the child, read an extra bedtime story and stay close but resist the temptation to let your child sleep with you. While it may be an easy solution at the time, it can be a difficult habit to break. Everyone needs a proper night’s rest.

If you have concerns that the grieving period is going on too long or behavior at preschool or daycare becomes extremely disruptive, it might be time to consult with the doctor. Being sad and upset for a week or so is understandable but much longer could be cause for concern.

How do you decide about getting another pet? Wait a couple of weeks before even thinking about getting another animal. Do you miss having a pet around? Is your child asking about getting another pet? Be honest with yourself and ask if it is easier without having a pet around. Are you likely to have another child soon and would you have time for a pet? Also, remember that although puppies are very cute, they are a lot of work. How would a new dog fit into your schedule?

The death of a family pet can be traumatic for a preschooler, and parents can be a huge comfort. With time and patience, everyone can adjust.

Comments on How to Help a Preschooler When a Family Pet Dies