The death of a cherished pet creates a
sense of loss for adults and produces a predictable chain of emotions.
The stages of grief are typically denial, sadness, depression, guilt,
anger, and finally, relief or recovery. However, the effects on
children vary widely depending upon the child's age and maturity
level. The basis for their reaction is their ability to understand
Children who are two or three years
old typically have no understanding of death. They often consider it a
form of sleep. They should be told that their pet has died and will
not return. Common reactions to this include temporary loss of speech
and generalized distress. The two or three year old should be
reassured that the pet's failure to return is unrelated to anything
the child may have said or done. Typically, a child in this age range
will readily accept another pet in place of the deceased one.
Five, and Six Year Olds
Children in this age range have some
understanding of death but in a way that relates to a continued
existence. The pet may be considered to be living underground while
continuing to eat, breathe, and play. Alternatively, it may be
considered asleep. A return to life may be expected if the child views
death as temporary.
Children at this age often feel that
any anger they had for the pet may be responsible for its death. This
view should be refuted because they may also translate this belief to
the death of family members in the past. Some children also see death
as contagious and begin to fear that their own death or that of others
is imminent. They should be reassured that their death is not likely.
Manifestations of grief often take
the form of disturbances in bladder and bowel control, eating, and
sleeping. This is best managed by parent-child discussions that allow
the child to express feelings and concerns. Several brief discussions
are generally more productive than one or two prolonged sessions.
Eight, and Nine Year Olds
The irreversibility of death becomes
real to these children. They usually do not personalize death,
thinking it cannot happen to them. However, some children may develop
concerns about death of their parents. They may become very curious
about death and its implications. Parents should be ready to respond
frankly and honestly to questions that may arise.
Several manifestations of grief may
occur in these children, including the development of school problems,
learning problems, antisocial behavior, hypochondriacal concerns, or
aggression. Additionally, withdrawal, over-attentiveness, or clinging
behavior may be seen. Based on grief reactions to loss of parents or
siblings, it is likely that these symptoms may not occur immediately
but several weeks or months later.
and Eleven Year Olds
Children in this age range generally
understand death as natural, inevitable, and universal. Consequently,
these children often react to death in a manner very similar to
this age group also reacts similarly to adults, many adolescents may
exhibit various forms of denial. This usually takes the form of a lack
of emotional display. Consequently, these young people may be
experiencing sincere grief without any outward manifestations. It is
important to encourage adolescents to discuss their feelings about
are having difficulty with your child’s grief, please contact the
hospital. We can provide assistance and contact numbers of
professionals who can help you and your family.