If your pet dies, Firstly, explain the death in words your toddler understands. Try not to use words like passed away, lost or sleeping.
You can say: ‘Now Misty has died, her body has stopped working. She can’t eat or sleep or run anymore, and she can’t feel any pain.’
Answer their questions briefly and simply. ‘Misty was old and her body can’t work anymore.’
Sometimes it can be good for your toddler to see the pet when it’s dead to help them understand that the lifeless body just isn’t their pet anymore.
If your toddler wants to know what happens to the pet’s soul or spirit after death, ask them what they think happens. And tell them what you think.
There are some great poems and books for toddlers that may help. And ‘The Legend of Rainbow Bridge’ by William Britton is lovely.

Secondly, plan how you’ll commemorate your pet dying.
If possible, have a little funeral. It’s nice to bury the pet in the garden, or at least have a little ritual so your toddler can say goodbye. They may like to release a helium balloon, with a message underneath. Or sing songs or light a candle and say a prayer or message. But do mark the passing in some way.
And they may like to have a photo of their pet. Or draw a picture. And you can write their message underneath.

Finally, allow your toddler to be sad, and come to terms with the death in their own way.
Say ‘it’s ok to feel sad. I feel sad. Misty was a big part of our lives, and we miss her.’
Your toddler probably viewed their pet as a friend, who just accepted them, and it’s important they’re allowed to grieve in their own way. And if they cry, just hold them. This is a pain you can’t take away. And it’s really good if your toddler can feel you’re there for them. And it’s ok if they see you cry too.
They may not get upset at all. Or they may be very upset one minute and move on to something else the next. So just take their lead.
It’s best to wait a little while before replacing the pet. Or it may seem that death means you just get replaced.
Your toddler will probably be obsessed with death and dying for a while. And, as toddlers make sense of the world through play, they may play games that involve them or their toys dying. And that’s ok.

So the 3 ways to help your toddler deal with the death of a pet are:

  1. Explain the death in words your toddler understands.
  2. Plan how you’ll commemorate your pet dying.
  3. And allow your toddler to be sad and come to terms with the death in their own way.

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Elizabeth O’Shea is a parenting specialist child behaviour expert and one of the leading parenting experts in the UK.

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