How do I tell my child their beloved dog has died | TeamDogs
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How do I tell my child their beloved dog has died

It is often a child's first experience of grief

TeamDogs

Posted 7 months ago

Your dog is your best friend, companion and confidante - the one who loves without question and always has your back.

Hardly surprising, then, that it is the very essence of family life, often for very many years.

So it’s natural that its loss will be felt keenly by the entire family. Grief, after all, is the price we pay for love.

Adults are likely to have already suffered the indescribable pain of a loved one’s death and will have experienced the ensuing stages of grief.

But for many children, their pet’s passing is their first encounter with this ultimate loss. How do we explain sensitively but clearly that their dog has passed away?

Of course, as parents we know our child and his or her reactions best - but it may help to draw on the experiences of experts and of others who have been in this situation.

Here, we outline some pointers and do’s and don'ts…


Your child’s age

Under 7

At this tender age, most children don’t yet understand that death is irreversible. They may believe a vet can bring their dog back to life, or even that they were in some way responsible for her death (for example, by wishing the dog was young and playful rather than elderly).


How to help 

Do:


  • Choose a calm and secure environment to tell them.
  • Be honest and open and use the words “death” and “dying” rather than euphemisms as this can be confusing.
  • Answer their questions.
  • Create a memorial to mark the passing, or scatter ashes at a favourite spot.
  • Use drawing, make a scrapbook or talk to encourage them to share their feelings.

Don’t (at any age)


  • Lie. Telling a child their dog has run away or gone on holiday will only confuse them. They may continue to believe their pet will soon return home.
  • Never try to pin blame on medical professionals. This could lead to a long-term fear and distrust.

Over 7

Between about 6 and 8 children begin to understand the concept of death, though will likely believe it only happens to other people and dogs. From 9, the reality of death will begin to dawn along with lots of questions. 


How to help 

Do:


  • Answer their questions. They could be curious about details of death, like euthanasia. Answer simply but honestly. For example, that the vet will give an injection which will put their dog to sleep. Explain the pet was so unwell that this was the kindest option
  • Allow closure. Depending on age and circumstances some children may want to be involved in the process. Chat to your vet - being present and seeing the body might enable closure, particularly for teenagers.
  • Stress to your child that crying is OK and share your own feelings of loss so you can grieve together as a family.
  • Make sure your child doesn’t hear about the death from someone they don’t know.
  • Never trivialise their grief.

For further help and support check out https://www.bluecross.org.uk/pet-loss-support-children-missing-my-friend

While thinking about grief, have you ever wondered if and how dogs grieve? We wondered that same thing, here is what we founds out.

Heard the one about the family who all wanted a dog but Dad didn't?

(Yes, you can guess how that worked out. Read it here.)


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