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
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.
It's time that this new generation of hands-on dads get the acknowledgment they deserve.
Do your kids have a favourite TV show that you barely tolerate? Read Erin's latest post about her toddler's obsession with Hoopla Doopla.
mother and baby Being pregnant in Summer isn't all bikinis and floaty dresses. Today we share 10 tips to look & feel great during summertime when you've got a baby on board. Visit motherandbaby.com.au and search "pregnant summer" or buy the latest issue of Pregnancy Life + Style on sale today!More from the team
mother and baby Do you find yourself yelling at your kids when they don't listen to you or do as you ask? We learned this week that this creates a bad habit as your children learn to only respond to you when you yell - so the result is that they ignore you the rest of the time! For 7 steps on how to avoid yelling, visit motherandbaby.com.au and search "yelling".More from the team
mother and baby Baby news for our gorgeous Asher Keddie, who is expecting her first bub with her hubby. On her pregnancy cravings she revealed to news.com.au that; “I’m not big on cravings but anything dairy for some reason. I want lots of cheese and lots of pistachios.” Congrats Asher!More from the team