Explaining a pets death to a child

12:0AM, Feb 8th 2012

Some helpful advice on how to grieve and answer the tough questions kids ask when a family pet dies

Explaining the death of a pet to your child
Image: Thinkstock

Tough questions are raised by children when a family pet dies. Jason Blake has found some helpful tip on how to deal with them, when he has to explain to his sons where the dog has gone.

First published in the 2012 Jan-Feb issue of Mother and Babymagazine. Subscribe here

Like many couples, long before we had kids, we had a dog. It was, friends and family joked, our 'trial run' for parenthood. If you can look after a dog — feed it, pick up after it and stop it being run over by a car — chances are you can be a parent.

We took in a young mongrel terrier that had washed up at the local RSPCA pound and gave him a home — which he proceeded to trash at every opportunity. Nevertheless, we fed him and picked up after him. Granted, he was hit by a slow-moving Volvo one morning but bounced harmlessly into the gutter, not much the worse for the experience.

Parenthood, here we come! Well, not quite. We didn't have our first until the dog was nine and by then he was used to being the centre of attention. He took to snapping and growling at the young interloper on his territory.

Slowly, the dog was edged down the pack hierarchy and took up a slightly martyred position on the front porch, a place he has occupied ever since. When our second boy arrived, the dog scarcely acknowledged him (and vice-versa).

The dog is a bit of a neighbourhood fixture, it must be said, as scrubby-looking old dogs often are. But now he's half-blind, semi-deaf, largely incontinent and has developed an age tremble.

He falls over when walking around corners, sometimes has to be carried up the hill or the porch steps. Inevitably, the time is coming for the family dog to, er… go.

"Where's he going, Dad?" I can hear plaintive little voices even now. To the Home for Old Dogs? To the Big Pound in the Sky? To the local vet clinic for a lethal injection of barbiturates, followed by cremation courtesy of the local council? It's a tricky one. After all, this isn't just the "putting to sleep" of a pet. This is opening the conceptual door to the idea that all life, inevitably, ends in death.

View gallery: Choosing the right pet for your family

According to my vet, the best thing to do isbe honest. Kids always understand more than we give them credit for, she advised. If you can handle it calmly and deal with any sadness in a healthy and thoughtful manner, the children will follow your example. If a parent is hysterical, the child will react likewise.

According to child psychologists, children under two respond to the death of a pet (or relative) based on what they observe in others. Only when the child is much older, do they perceive death as something permanent.

I'll be dealing with a few emotions, too. I grew up on a dairy farm and still remember when my dad took my hopelessly ill collie, Honey, for a walk one winter morning. He came back alone and Honey was never spoken of again.

I'm trying to prepare myself for the whole possible spectrum. Like anyone dealing with a loss, kids feel a variety of emotions besides sadness after the death of a pet: a sense of loss, anger, frustration or guilt.

Dealing with all this will perhaps be one of the most valuable things we will have learned from our 'trial run' pet. In losing a loved one we'll show it's OK to feel sad, to talk about feelings, and to cry when you need to.

Jason Blake is Mother & Babymagazine's regular contributor and a stay-at-home dad of two boys Bill and Thom. Subscribe to Mother and Baby here to read more from Jason.

Do you have any tips on explaining the concept of death to a young child? Share your thoughts below.

comments powered by Disqus

Related articles

 
 
instagram
  • Ohhhhh @bugaboohq you know our team well!!! A delivery of @gelatomessina ice cream to celebrate the launch of the #bugaboobee3 This delicious dark chocolate honeycomb swirl flavour is also available in all Messina Sydney stores this week! Such a cool idea - it represents the stripes on a bee! Mmmmmmm mmmmmm. #beeinthecity #forparentswholiveonthefly

    mother and baby Ohhhhh @bugaboohq you know our team well!!! A delivery of @gelatomessina ice cream to celebrate the launch of the #bugaboobee3 This delicious dark chocolate honeycomb swirl flavour is also available in all Messina Sydney stores this week! Such a cool idea - it represents the stripes on a bee! Mmmmmmm mmmmmm. #beeinthecity #forparentswholiveonthefly

    More from the team
  • HOORAY IT'S SPRING!!!!

    mother and baby HOORAY IT'S SPRING!!!!

    More from the team
  • For anyone planning a #frozen party look no further than @thepartyparlour They have everything from licensed plates to cups and even a giant Olaf balloon!!! Oh to be a kid again!!! #happypartyplanning #thepartyparlour #onestopshop

    mother and baby For anyone planning a #frozen party look no further than @thepartyparlour They have everything from licensed plates to cups and even a giant Olaf balloon!!! Oh to be a kid again!!! #happypartyplanning #thepartyparlour #onestopshop

    More from the team
  • How could this pic not put a smile on your dial?! This is a repost from @mommasgonecity who has a gazillion followers... And understandably. Is your pet classified as your 'furry baby' in your household?! Ours most certainly is!!

    mother and baby How could this pic not put a smile on your dial?! This is a repost from @mommasgonecity who has a gazillion followers... And understandably. Is your pet classified as your 'furry baby' in your household?! Ours most certainly is!!

    More from the team
  • To tablet or not to tablet?! How old was your little one when they got their first device?

    mother and baby To tablet or not to tablet?! How old was your little one when they got their first device?

    More from the team
  • Hello Weekend! And hello to the @iloveminti spring/summer collection! #musthave

    mother and baby Hello Weekend! And hello to the @iloveminti spring/summer collection! #musthave

    More from the team
  • @potterybarnkidsaus has opened its doors at @chatswoodchasesydney and to celebrate they will be handing these @gelatomessina treats out tomorrow instore. Know where I'll be at 9am!!! Might see you there???!!!

    mother and baby @potterybarnkidsaus has opened its doors at @chatswoodchasesydney and to celebrate they will be handing these @gelatomessina treats out tomorrow instore. Know where I'll be at 9am!!! Might see you there???!!!

    More from the team
  • As kids, Fridays were very special as it was lolly night!! Mum and Dad would give us 20 cents (yes, no error - 20 cents!! ) and walk us to the shops and we could choose our treat for the week!!! With @colessupermarkets launching these new ice cream flavours, perhaps I need to introduce 'ice cream Fridays' in our house!!! Do you have any special treats for the kids come a weekend?

    mother and baby As kids, Fridays were very special as it was lolly night!! Mum and Dad would give us 20 cents (yes, no error - 20 cents!! ) and walk us to the shops and we could choose our treat for the week!!! With @colessupermarkets launching these new ice cream flavours, perhaps I need to introduce 'ice cream Fridays' in our house!!! Do you have any special treats for the kids come a weekend?

    More from the team
  • Two days left until our ed, Fi goes on maternity leave. Thought it only fitting we take her (and junior)  for a feast. Hungry team waiting for our lunch to arrive :)

    mother and baby Two days left until our ed, Fi goes on maternity leave. Thought it only fitting we take her (and junior) for a feast. Hungry team waiting for our lunch to arrive :)

    More from the team
  • How cool are these Where's Wally #havaianas!?

    mother and baby How cool are these Where's Wally #havaianas!?

    More from the team