By Betsy Brown Braun
More times that I can count, I have received a call from a parent saying sadly, “We have to put our dog down. I just can’t imagine what I am going to say to my little boy.” And every single time I kick myself for not including such an important and weighty question in the chapter “Learning about Death,” which is in my book “Just Tell Me What to Say.”
As with all learning, the child’s curiosity about, awareness and understanding of death grows bit by bit, one piece built on the last, like scaffolding. (But does anyone really ever understand life’s one great inevitability, death?) And there are so many component parts that make up the concept of death and give it a context—the life cycle, life spans, aging, terminal illness, and what happens after death. That’s a whole lot for a child to learn. (And it is all covered in my book.)
Death is not something from which children should be sheltered. It begins as soon as the child is able to notice that dead leaves are falling off the trees. Learning about this reality of life from the people she loves and trusts puts her squarely on track for open and honest communication as she grows and brings her heavy duty questions to you.
In reality, somewhere around the age of four, most children start to wonder about death, weave it into their dramatic play, lace their vocabularies with words like dead, die, kill, shoot, all in an attempt to wrap their arms around this difficult topic. Good for them; it’s part of the growing and learning process.
It is hard for anyone to deal with the death of a person, someone known. Thankfully, it is less frequent that a young child is exposed to a person who is dying. More likely, it is the death of a pet that is the child’s first brush with the concept of death. How is a parent to deal with that?
Helping children to learn through the death of a pet is one of the many stepping stones to learning to deal with their sad feelings and to their healthy emotional development. Below are some suggestions for helping a child to deal with a pet’s death.
When the child, 7 years and younger, sees that his pet is dead:
When a dog (pet) must be put down, I suggest more round-about approach with the child 7 years and younger.
Reprinted from BetsyBrownBraun.com with permission.
Have you ever broken the news of a dog passing away to your child? How did you do it? Tell us all about it in the comments.