Explaining a pets death to a child

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 Β— feed it, pick up after it and stop it being run over by a car Β— 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 Β— 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.

12:0AM, Feb 8th 2012

comments powered by Disqus

Related articles

 
 
instagram
  • The way to a woman's heart πŸ˜‚πŸ«πŸ‘ŒπŸΌ

    mother and baby The way to a woman's heart πŸ˜‚πŸ«πŸ‘ŒπŸΌ

    More from the team
  • This @Britaxaustralia E Brake stroller got a LOT of attention at today's Mother & Baby Awards testing event. It has digital "e-brake" technology that automatically locks whenever contact with the handle is lost. PLUS it comes with an in-built LCD screen that shows fancy-pants features like a calorie counter, distance travelled, and the temperature. No wonder our M&B mums were impressed πŸ‘ŒπŸΌπŸ‘πŸ»πŸ‘ΆπŸΌ #MBawards15

    mother and baby This @Britaxaustralia E Brake stroller got a LOT of attention at today's Mother & Baby Awards testing event. It has digital "e-brake" technology that automatically locks whenever contact with the handle is lost. PLUS it comes with an in-built LCD screen that shows fancy-pants features like a calorie counter, distance travelled, and the temperature. No wonder our M&B mums were impressed πŸ‘ŒπŸΌπŸ‘πŸ»πŸ‘ΆπŸΌ #MBawards15

    More from the team
  • It was great to see so many happy mums and bubs at today's Mother & Baby Awards testing event! Motherhood feels so much easier with friends by your side β€οΈπŸ˜˜πŸΌπŸ‘ΆπŸΌ #MBawards15

    mother and baby It was great to see so many happy mums and bubs at today's Mother & Baby Awards testing event! Motherhood feels so much easier with friends by your side β€οΈπŸ˜˜πŸΌπŸ‘ΆπŸΌ #MBawards15

    More from the team
  • Delicious cupcakes and AMAZING brownies and sandwiches kept our mums happy after a morning of testing and chatting πŸ˜πŸ°πŸ‘ŒπŸΌ #MBawards15

    mother and baby Delicious cupcakes and AMAZING brownies and sandwiches kept our mums happy after a morning of testing and chatting πŸ˜πŸ°πŸ‘ŒπŸΌ #MBawards15

    More from the team
  • What happens when you invite a couple of hundred mums to an event? You end up with a 'carpark' of prams! πŸ˜³πŸ˜‚πŸ’–#MBawards15

    mother and baby What happens when you invite a couple of hundred mums to an event? You end up with a 'carpark' of prams! πŸ˜³πŸ˜‚πŸ’–#MBawards15

    More from the team
  • Some of our lovely mums with their bubs this morning testing the new range of baby bouncers. The @nuna_usa Leaf Curv and the @4moms_hq RockaRoo #MBawards15

    mother and baby Some of our lovely mums with their bubs this morning testing the new range of baby bouncers. The @nuna_usa Leaf Curv and the @4moms_hq RockaRoo #MBawards15

    More from the team
  • Today is our Mother & Baby Awards testing event. We've invited hundreds of mums and babies to come and judge the newest and best baby and toddler products #MBawards15

    mother and baby Today is our Mother & Baby Awards testing event. We've invited hundreds of mums and babies to come and judge the newest and best baby and toddler products #MBawards15

    More from the team
  • Whadayathink? Sometimes kids just need to be kids πŸ™ŠπŸ‘£πŸ˜˜

    mother and baby Whadayathink? Sometimes kids just need to be kids πŸ™ŠπŸ‘£πŸ˜˜

    More from the team
  • So much cuteness in these adorable little boy flatlays from @seedheritage Do you have a little man who'd look adorable in these winter outfits? πŸ’™β„οΈπŸ‘ΆπŸΌπŸΌ

    mother and baby So much cuteness in these adorable little boy flatlays from @seedheritage Do you have a little man who'd look adorable in these winter outfits? πŸ’™β„οΈπŸ‘ΆπŸΌπŸΌ

    More from the team
  • "You won't always like your child!" @theyoungmummy has shared six of the lessons she has learned since becoming a mum. Click the link on our profile and search "The Young Mummy" to read Sophie's honest (as always) words πŸ˜˜πŸ‘ŠπŸ»πŸ’•

    mother and baby "You won't always like your child!" @theyoungmummy has shared six of the lessons she has learned since becoming a mum. Click the link on our profile and search "The Young Mummy" to read Sophie's honest (as always) words πŸ˜˜πŸ‘ŠπŸ»πŸ’•

    More from the team