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How to Tell Your Child Their Pet Died

How Do You Explain a Pet's Death to a Toddler?

This post was originally featured on Lindsey Blogs and written by Lindsey G, who is part of POPSUGAR Select Living.

Our Pet's Death

A few months ago, Sophia showed interest in getting a pet fish. We decided to go with a betta fish, since they're easy to take care of and we could let her start a routine of feeding it and taking care of something, a little responsibility for the two year old. She named her, she insisted the fish was a girl . . . Blue Fish. Yep, this little lady loves blue. So, how do you explain a pet's death to a toddler the right way?

So, Blue Fish joined our family back in September. Sometimes I ended up being the one to feed her, but Sophia actually really enjoyed her pet. Unfortunately, Blue Fish #1 didn't make it past a few days. Before Sophia even noticed, we replaced with Blue Fish #2, simply because we didn't know what to tell her. She never noticed the difference.

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Sadly, though, this weekend I found Blue Fish not swimming. I was a bit sad and knew that Sophia would be too, even though she might not understand why. Rob and I talked about what we should tell her and really we didn't know what to do.

Explaining a Pet's Death to a Toddler

So, the next day, I took Blue Fish out of the small aquarium and started cleaning it. Sophia wanted to know when I was going to put the blue rocks back in the tank. I quit what I was doing and sat down with her. I told her that sometimes people and animals miss their Mommies and Daddies and Blue Fish missed her family so she went back to visit them. She was so sad. She started to cry and said, "But I miss my Blue Fish."

I was caught off guard. I thought by telling her a happier version, she would be ok, but she still missed her pet.

So, by trying to save her little feelings, I didn't at all. So, after the fact I did some research, which is never a good idea — research should have been done beforehand, I know.

I found that I did it all wrong. Most experts agree that you should be completely honest {never do the switch-a-roo} and my whole story about Blue Fish visiting her family? That's a No-No too.

So How Should I Have Explained Blue Fish's Death to Sophia?

  1. Be honest. Since she's only 2.5, I should have explained it simply and to the point, with not too much information. I should have let her ask questions and answered them truthfully and honestly.
  2. Let her talk about her feelings. Explain that it's ok to be sad or even mad.
  3. Let Sophia say goodbye. Instead of trying to hide the fact that Blue Fish died, let her accept it and tell her fish goodbye.
  4. Take a break before getting another fish. I immediately wanted to take her out and let her buy a new fish, but I think we'll wait just a bit before that happens.

I definitely think that since this pet was a fish, there wasn't quite a bond that she might have had as if it was a dog or a cat, an animal that she interacts with a bit more. But saying that, just because Blue Fish was a fish, doesn't discount Sophia's feelings either.

This was a real learning experience for Rob and me. We now know how to deal with situations like this, although I hope they don't happen often, and I feel better prepared for when they do arise. I didn't go back and tell Sophia what really happened, but we will definitely use these points from now on.

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