Sigh - Pet Death - Fish - How to Break It to Him

Updated on June 17, 2012
P.G. asks from San Antonio, TX
9 answers

Yeah, I know we all go through this. Our beta fish that we've had for 2.5 years died. Not sure what happened. My son hasn't noticed. I just did. Son is 5. It was more my fish, so he didn't have an ongoing feeding relationship, etc.

What's the best way to deal? Both of us "take care" of him? Burial at sea (toilet)? Trashcan? Yard? Sigh. He's at the age where he's more aware of death (grandmother recently passed - she lived far away and we visited before we passed so he wasn't at funeral). I don't want to gloss over it, but don't want to go overboard on discussing it. Want to use it as an educational thing if it's appropriate. Your thoughts?

Thanks, moms.

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So What Happened?

Well, we had a few tears, but everything's ok know. Burial "at sea" - I took care of it. Little guy is fine. Whew!

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answers from Kalamazoo on

We keep a tank with platys, they dont die all the time, but its not unusual. We just flush them and buy a new one. Not to sound heartless but to me fish are more like houseplants than puppies. My daughter doesnt seem to care. She likes to say goodbye when they are getting a flush.

3 moms found this helpful

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answers from Dallas on

Be honest but gentle. Tell him fish only live for a few years, and now your fish is dead. My kids loved our "burial at sea" for our dwarf aquatic frog. Best wishes!

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I'd not say anything until he notices and asks. Then I'd just respond in a simple way that the fish died. I see no need to have a "funeral" for a fish. I suggest doing so puts too much importance on the life of a fish. Yes, we mourn, perhaps, if the fish were important but it doesn't sound like the fish was that important to him since he hasn't noticed. I suggest a matter of fact approach without giving it undue importance is the way to go.

You don't want to make the death of a fish as important as the death of his grandmother or of a dog or cat who become a physical part of his world.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from St. Louis on

Fish are just those kind of pets that people, kids included, just don't get attached to. When we had them die we just flushed them. When the kids asked, which was usually weeks later, we just told them they died.

Sometimes making a big deal about it makes things worse. I mean how would you feel if you just don't care and your mom is making a big deal like you should care. Starts making you feel something is wrong with you.

Oh gads, funny story. My son has Ciclids. They are in a 180 gallon tank. You know those huge fish you see in restaurant tanks? When Genna was eight she noticed one died so she buried it at sea. Had to take the whole freaking toilet apart to get the damn thing out! You speaking of how to bury reminded me of that.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

It really depends on the child. We had this very situation this morning with my four-year-old, she didn't seem to care as much as I did that her fish was dead. I asked her she wanted to bury or flush it down the toilet and she chose toilet (like nemo she said we were sending him back to his family in the ocean). We lost our grandma/nana and a few other families members recently do maybe that helped to not make the pet death a huge deal? I'd just be honest with him and ask how he wants to handle it.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I'm on the side of 'if it matters to the child'. If your son didn't show any interest, I wouldn't bring it up. Do what feels good for you. Some kids do have a relationship with the fish. We had a tank when I was about eight and when some of the fish died, I'm not sure I even caught on. We weren't 'close', the fish and I.

However, my neighbor's daughter's fish (who she fed each day and adored) died, and the family had a small burial. She was only 5 or so, but it mattered to her. Let your child's past interest guide you in this.

And if you need a book, "Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Life and Death to Children" by Bryan Mellonie is a very solid, good book. It is well-loved at our home.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Missoula on

When I was 7, our cat somehow got onto the shelf and fished my 3 year old beta out of it's little tank. I found it dried up and was very devastated. It didn't matter to me that it wasn't a more 'important' pet, I was still very sad. We didn't have a funeral, I just dumped it in the toilet and we flushed it... my dad just told me that sometimes in life these things happen, and there isn't anything we can do about it but to move on. After a week or so, he took me to get a new fish.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

ANY chance you could pull the ol' switcheroo with the Beta fish? :)

We lost a goldfish that was 2.5 years old when my son was about 5. Funny how he barely noticed the fish (that was a party when he was alive but cried when he died.
We put him in a small jewelry (Macy's) box with cotton and buried him in the back yard. We said a few words and buried him in the back yard, near the treeline.
Next, we lost a guppy approaching the 2 year mark. He got wrapped in a paper towel, marked with a cross (I guess he was Christian) and buried next to the goldfish.
Talk to him about the cycle of life. That nothing/no O. lives forever, and this fish's time had come.
Sorry about the fish. :(

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

I've done it both ways: telling them (at 3 and 5) and not telling them (at 5 and 7). What not telling them did was make them think I wouldn't tell them about the important stuff. When I did tell them we had a burial at sea - at the local lake. That worked much better (they cried and they were better) than when they found out I hadn't told them (they were upset for days). All kids are different, you know your child, but I suggest telling him - that way he knows you will tell him the truth about the important stuff. Good luck.

1 mom found this helpful
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