How to tell your toddler your pet passed away?
How to tell your toddler your pet passed away? Unfortunately an aging dog doesn’t come with an owners manual on how to handle the last weeks and days of your dogs life. 12 wonderful years of companionship can come crashing to a halt when your dog’s health starts failing. Distraught for 3 days, our family collectively decided that euthanizing our sweet Oscar was the best thing for him. He may have been small in size, but the void he left behind was massive. We weren’t the only ones that noticed our 2 year and 3 month old son was beginning to ask questions.
In an effort to handle this the best way, I called on my dear friend Dan Rubenstein. Master Dog Trainer, 18 year veteran owner of Dog Day Care centers, “Doggie Dan” – www.doggiedans.com.
Meet Master Dog Trainer and Dog Daycare Center owner – Doggie Dan:
Dan is a ‘SINGLE’ (that’s right ladies) father of 2 beautiful twin girls and has had the misfortune of saying goodbye to several dogs over the years.
So tell us, Dan. How to tell your toddler the dog passed away?
Be Honest. Dan recommends to share with your child that your pet has died and he’s no longer with us. When your child inquires ‘why’ or is inquisitive, put the emphasis on saying that he was very old. When animals get very old sometimes their bodies stop working properly. Don’t say words like SICK or ILL as this can lead the child to believe that being sick causes death. Case in point we told our son this while on antibiotics for a double ear infection! Sick does NOT equal death.
Be Direct (but be Selective with your words). Don’t tell your child that the “dog went away” or “died in their sleep”. This can illicit fear of leaving (i.e. you leave the house for date night) or going to sleep at night can draw associations to death. Again, reiterate that “Oscar died and he won’t be coming back”.
Open the dialogue, inquire about their feelings. Dan suggests to ask them how they are feeling, but don’t have the expectation that they will be as upset as you are over the death of the animal. Death is a subject they won’t understand. Check in to see how this news makes them ‘feel’ and be prepared to have a quick conversation with little depth (which is ok!).
Protect them (if you can). When euthanizing your pet, it’s most likely not necessary to have them be part of the process if they don’t have to be. In our case we had someone come to the house, and we had the kids leave so they wouldn’t be witness to that part.
It’s OK to be sad, but not ‘inconsolable’. Having your toddler see you sad is healthy and natural. Having them learn empathy is one of the wonderful aspects of bringing a pet into your home. Don’t get hysterical. Children can’t understand seeing you in that state, if you are breaking down, do your best to step away.
If it goes unnoticed, gently inquire. Doggie Dan says that even if the toddler doesn’t bring it up, they may very well do so in a week or two. If you haven’t had a conversation about the passing of your pet, do it as soon as possible. Gently bring up a conversation about the animal. Try a picture or something that will remind them and then address the issues when discussing them. If they come to you down the road, you will have a much more difficult situation on your hands.
Expect the unexpected. Let’s be honest, toddlers are unpredictable. The loss of a pet may manifest itself in a myriad of different behaviors. Prepare yourself for all sorts of behavioral challenges as you never know how they may process this experience.
Thanks for sharing ‘how to tell your toddler the dog passed away’, Doggie Dan. For more information about dog daycare, dog products, dog grooming etc… visit www.doggiedans.com