Helping Children Understand Dog Loss: Tools for Preschoolers

Discover recommended activities and books for helping children understand dog loss and heal from pet grief. Top books & activities for talking to preschoolers about pet grief.

DOG LOSSHELPING KIDS GRIEVE

Katie Abendroth

5/25/20244 min read

helping children understand dog losshelping children understand dog loss

This is the first in a 4-part series about helping children understand dog loss. This article offers tools, books, and activities especially for kids under 5 years old.

While losing a pet is hard enough on adults, helping children understand dog loss can be even more challenging.

Despite our own grief, the loss of a family dog is an important chance to model healthy coping strategies for kids, and help young children understand the concept of death.

I have worked with hundreds of kids over the years as a speech-language pathologist, and most young kids connect deeply with animals. Pets - and dogs especially- provide a level of loyalty and unconditional love that comfort kids.

Below, check out tips for helping children understand pet loss, especially for kids under 5 years old. The books and activities listed will offer them positive strategies and comfort.

I may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you order from the links below through Amazon.

Save these tips:
The Invisible Leash . Picture book for preschool and early elementary ages. This popular book recounts how an invisible leash that feels like love connects us to pets that have passed away.

3 Terrific Books about Pet Loss for Young Kids

Help children understand dog lossHelp children understand dog loss
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A Rainbow Bridge for Gus . This storybook for helping children understand pet loss introduces the Rainbow Bridge concept and has memory activity page at the end for their own pet.
I'll Always Love You. Great for preschool children, this book offers comfort that our love for each other never ends after the loss of a dog.
helping children understand dog losshelping children understand dog loss

Activities for Preschool Kids to Help Understand Dog Loss

  1. Create Artwork
helping children understand dog loss
helping children understand dog loss

Kids, especially young kids under 5, don't always have the words, or vocabulary to express their feelings.

Art in any medium can help. Finger paint, chalk drawings, clay/playdoh, and crayons all offer kids a chance to process big feelings they may not be able to put into words.

Open-ended art, rather than a set plan let's kids explore their creative side. It is not about the end product, but about processing feelings...the messier the better!

  1. Create a Memory Box

Similar to a sensory or sand box, a memory box can be a tool for helping children understand dog loss.

Any plastic bin will do, but about 12-18 inches is ideal. A tight fitting lid will keep messes contained.

Fill with kinetic sand. This sensory texture appeals to young kids. Let them put in small pictures, collar tags, a stick, drawings, written words, or small dog toys to sift through.

Keep in a consistent place so when kids feel sad they can sift through the items and feel connection to their dog.

helping children understand dog loss
helping children understand dog loss
helping children understand dog loss
helping children understand dog loss
  1. Create Using Legos

Larger legos work well for preschool kids, who may have less fine motor control.

Using legos, allow your child to create an image of their dog, a special design for their pet, or a tower to heaven or the Rainbow Bridge.

This activity is action oriented, and helps kids feel connected to their pet. If they feel angry or sad, they can knock the legos down. If they love their creation, keep it on a shelf for a few weeks or add it to your Pet Memorial.

  1. Create a Pet Memorial
helping children understand dog loss
helping children understand dog loss

Young kids could, and should, have a hand in creating a family pet memorial.

Whether it is putting their art or lego creation on the mantle, or helping plant a tree, tell kids what you are doing and why.

Every action after the loss of your dog is a chance to model healthy grieving strategies for your kids.

helping children understand dog loss
helping children understand dog loss
  1. Explore Apps

There are child-friendly apps that offer guided prompts for young children.

Complete these activities with your child.

Pet Grief 247 is one app that has emotions listed and on demand videos for feelings. This is something you and your child can do together to develop grief vocabulary.

Daniel Tiger and other cartoons have episodes about grief you can watch together.

More than anything, don't ignore grief. Helping children understand dog loss means giving them tools and vocabulary to move forward in their feelings and understanding.

After the Loss of Your Dog as a Family

helping children understand dog loss
helping children understand dog loss

Your kids are looking at your for clues about how to process grief.

This is a chance as a family to discuss your beliefs about life, death, and signs of life from beyond.

The Rainbow Bridge, or discussions of faith or heaven, can bring great comfort to young kids.

Finally, preschool children will not understand the permanence of death. They may keep asking about your family dog, or seem to get over it quickly only to sob months later.

Be patient, as there is no set timeline for kids. Their world view is not as linear as an adult, and so small memories may trigger big reactions when least expected.

Stay calm, consistent and reassuring. Your child will find joy and hope again after the loss of a pet.