If you are facing the loss of a pet or you have recently lost one you may be worried about how your young child or children will cope. Here’s a guide of how children up to nine years old perceive death which we hope may help you to support them.
All children develop at their own rate so this is just a guideline. Parents know their own child best so whatever you do will help them.
Newborn to Three Years
A baby or young child will pick up on sadness and anxiety and can sense when someone significant is missing. They –
Have No understanding of death
Take the lead from the emotions of others
May be irritable
May change their eating habits, bowel and bladder movements
Need extra cuddles
Three to Six Years
At this age, the child thinks death is temporary, like going to sleep or when a parent goes to work. They believe that people who die will come back. They –
Believe they somehow caused the death or can bring the deceased back. May see the death is punishment for bad behaviour
Are still greatly influenced by parent’s emotional state
Struggle with abstract concepts such as heaven
May exhibit regressive behaviours such as bed wetting, needing a previously discarded security blanket or toy, sucking their thumb, etc.
Have difficulty putting their feelings into words
Six to Nine Years
At this age, the child may begin to understand the finality of death. They –
See death as something that comes and takes you away.
Fear that death is contagious and those they love may catch it and die too.
Are naturally fascinated with ideas like mutilation. They may seem extremely curious about the body and what it looks like.
Often connect death with violence and may ask who killed the deceased
Think that three types of people die – old people, handicapped people and idiots.
Whatever age your child is when you lose a pet, take the lead from how they’re behaving and then support them appropriately. It’s very hard but these books might give you some extra help.
Goodbye Mog by Judith Kerr
If you loved the Mog books then this will be even more poignant for you. Judith Kerr has brought the Mog stories to a close with this incredibly moving book. Mog has gone to sleep forever but keeps an eye on her family. She stays around long enough to help the family’s new kitten. When she hears Debbie say they she will always remember her, Mog is free to move on at last.
Reviewers loved this book as it is perfect for younger children. Many reported reading it alone before reading it with their children just so that they could compose themselves. Judith Kerr’s brave book covers loss in a way that even very small children can understand and is highly recommended.
Are You Sad, Little Bear? A Book about Learning to Say Goodbye by Rachel Rivett
Little Bear is sad because Grandmother Bear has gone away forever. His mother tells him to find his woodland friends and ask them what saying goodbye means for them. Little Bear finds comfort and hope as he begins to understand his loss.