How Do You Tell a Three Year Old Her Gold Fish Died?

Updated on January 02, 2014
M.A. asks from Tempe, AZ
18 answers

My three year old daughter has two goldfish, respectively named Bob and Sara. Today I noticed Bob....or Sara floating on it's side. Although the fish started swimming, I have had enough of them to know...the end is coming. So, here is my question. Do you tell her the truth? If so how? OR.....Do I just replace it?
Please know, I don't like lying to my children, but I also don't want her to be hurt. She is very sensitive and absolutely loves these fish. She reads to them, includes them when she plays house, draws them pictures and all that.

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answers from Baton Rouge on

I have to disagree about goldfish having no personality and all looking alike. My daughter came home from a fair with a goldfish in a baggie that she won tossing softballs at milk bottles. That fish was SMART. My daughter trained her to take food flakes out of her fingers.She would actually jump out of the water like a little orange dolphin. She liked to be talked to, and would ram the side of the tank if you passed her without speaking. You could hear her tiny mouth bones clinking on the glass. We had her for seven years, and all cried for days when she died.
Tell the child the truth, and help her deal with her grief. Death is an inescapable part of life.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

Interesting you should post this question, my three year old's fish died recently. I did tell her the fish died and we promplty replaced it. She was fine with it. I did try to explain the death in as tender a way as I could to her. She has mentioned the fish and simply says "he died out"..her way of saying he died.

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answers from Portland on

There is a great book called "Lifetimes" by Bryan Mellonie. It explains death in a very simple way which children can understand.

You need to be honest. "Sara Fish is not alive any more. Fish do not live for very long and her body stopped working." Let her know that you understand that she'll 'miss' the fish. It may be that she will be happy to have a replacement and off you go to the pet store, or she may want to be sad about this. You can let her draw a picture to Sara, or take dictation for her and let her 'write' a letter to the fish to convey her emotions.

Our friends had a little funeral for their betta and buried it in the backyard. I think these smaller experiences of death should not be avoided-- they help our children to understand the concept-- that the living being isn't coming back-- and help them to understand future experiences of death more easily as they grow up. If we shield our children from being hurt or suffering disappointments and sadness, they grow up to be more fragile as they get older. We do our best to help the child make sense of their feelings and their understanding of death by gently helping to manage this experience. So, give her sympathy for her feelings and let her have the truth.

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answers from Washington DC on

simply, and honestly.
and no euphemisms about sleep.
'i'm sorry, honey. bob died today. fish are small and don't live very long. we'll bury him, and we'll be sad for a while.' 'no, you don't come back after you're dead.' 'yes, people die too, but we live lots and lots longer than fish do. you don't need to worry about that.' 'we'll get another fish later, but it's okay to be sad about bob first.'
answer only what's asked after the initial breaking of the news.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

"Hey baby. Bob...or Sara....passed away last night. I am sorry. It's always sad to lose a pet."

2 moms found this helpful


answers from San Diego on

When we lost fish and later 2 of our old aged cats we just told them the truth. When we had to euthanize the 2 cats the kids were all there when it happened to say their goodbyes.
Their bodies got old and couldn't work right anymore and they died.
We'd always referred to theirs toys as dead or dying so the words weren't foreign to them. Things get old and stop working right and eventually die.
There was only once that we did the whole replacing the fish. We had gotten a fish for our kids. Quite literally the next day the fish started looking bad and died before the end of the day. We had to go out so they hadn't noticed it died. On our way back home from the activity the kids fell asleep in the car. I ran into the store and bought an identical goldfish. I ran into the house before the kids did and switched it out. We both felt so guilty about it but at the same time it was just too funny. The fish didn't even last a whole day. That's really the only reason we replaced it and didn't say anything.

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answers from Lakeland on

Just REPLACE the fish! If you replace it, your not lying. She is 3 yrs old why is there a need to tell her it is sick and is dying, She won't understand no matter what you tell her or what book you read to her about death. She will have the rest of her life to learn about death, now is not the time.

You don't like lying. My daughter had a stroke, she was in the surgery room, they were fixing to do surgery on her, the doctors told us that she might not make it. Well before they put her under she asked for me, the doctors let me see her. She asked me, Mom am I going to die, I knew that she might b/c of what the doctors said. I flat out lied, and said no baby your going to live, everything is going to be okay. Can you imagine if i would have told her the truth. I hate lying , but sometimes you have too.

Please just replace Bob or Sarah

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Philadelphia on

Tell her the truth. It is far better her first experience with death is with a goldfish. This will give you the opportunity to discuss your beliefs with her and she will be much better prepared when someone important in her life dies. She will handle it fine. Kids are amazingly resilient.

My daughter was 2 1/2 when my grandfather died and she was one month shy of 3 when her brother died. She was fine.

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answers from Houston on

I would just replace them. She can learn about death later.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Hartford on

No need to lie about death and dying. If you start now then you teach your children that it's something to fear, something taboo to talk about, and that it's not natural. There's no reason to ever cover up death. What hurts them is the lying.

So yes, tell her the truth. You can let her know that the fish is sick and hopefully will get better but that sometimes when they're sick like this they can die. She'll ask you questions and you just answer them as age appropriately and simply as possible based on your religious or non-religious belief system.

If she cries it's perfectly natural and it's ok. Tell her that it's not only ok to be sad, but it's good to be sad when she feels those things. Because that's the truth too. It will help teach her to mourn properly so that when bigger deaths face her in the future she'll have a healthy starting point to look back upon. She'll remember Mommy helping her through a sad time with her goldfish.

And this will be good for you too. Some hurts are hurts that we're not supposed to protect them from. I believe that this is one of them. Sensitive girl doesn't mean weak girl, right mom?

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Green Bay on

Check out Mister Rogers episode - Death of a Goldfish. How he talks about and handles the death of one of his fish is amazing. Be honest with her. Tell her that fish sometimes die. Don't use euphemisms ("pass away", "went to sleep", etc.).

When my grandma died, about 9 months ago, I told my son that a person is made of a body and a soul. I told him that a persons body doesn't last forever. It stops working, and dies. When it does, the person's soul goes to heaven. Sometimes the idea of "going to heaven" is hard for children to grasp. But it is something I firmly believe so I shared that belief with him. He knows which of his loved ones are in heaven because we still talk about and to them.

But seriously, Mister Rogers has some great tips - even if you don't think SHE would watch it, you can certainly watch it and take some hints from what he says.
Good luck!!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

Our fish just ending up on its side, yesterday. Our day yesterday and today has been a little crazy. We are having a burial flushing tomorrow with my 2 year old and 5 year old.

Tell her the truth. My son was 3.5 when we had to remove the cat from our house. We told him it was because we were allergic to the cat. (he was, well I am as well, but we found a new home for him because of my son).. Well he decided that he wanted new parents just so he could get his cat back.. Yeah that backfired on us. I have told him that he is allergic and is healthier because the cat is gone. He was a nice cat, and we miss him. I do not dismiss his feelings about the cat we talk about it and he is fine.

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answers from Phoenix on

Very simple and honest.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

Ya know, I almost always believe in telling the truth. However, it's a goldfish -- they have no personality and they all look alike.

At three years old, would a tiny white lie really hurt? You could just replace Bob, or Sara, with another fish of the same size.

If YOU can't even tell the difference between Bob and Sara, is a 3 year old going to? I vote to do a little switcheroo -- she can learn about death when she's 4 or 5.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Columbus on

I highly recommend the book Lifetimes. It talks about living things getting old, getting hurt, and dying. It doesn't dwell on emotional loss or people dying, it's just very factual with beautiful illustrations.

When my son was younger, his fish died, and we had a funeral in the potty. We said a few words and let him do the honors. Right when my son hit the flush lever, fishy miraculously came back to life and started swimming against the current before disappearing down the hole. My worst mommy moment EVER.



answers from Phoenix on

Tell her that bob needs one last story. He is very sick, you don't know why, and he will die soon.
You can't lie as it will inevitably happen again. just ask her if she thinks it would be easier on sara if you got her a new friend now so sara won't be lonely when bob leaves her. Assuming you have a day or two...



answers from New York on

Just tell her. Don't lie. At three years old, she will move on to something else very quickly. If you make a big deal out of it she will.



answers from New London on

I read a book the librarian suggested...

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