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How can we help our child with the death of our pet?

Our dog died a year ago after battling cancer. Our 4 1/2 yr old daughter was sad then, but in the last 2 months she's been crying herself to sleep asking why he had to die & saying that she misses him. We tell her that we miss him too; that the vet couldn't make him better & God took him to heaven b/c he needed a special dog-then she gets mad at God. She has spoken to our priest. She only talks about the dog at bedtime. We got another dog eight months ago. What can we do?

Submitted by paull16511

Although 5 ½ might seem a little on the young side, it is not uncommon for kids in her age range to begin to have more thoughts and questions about death and dying.  The fact that your dog died recently makes it even more concrete for her.  So far it sounds like you have done some great things to help relate to your daughter and comfort her.  At this point, your best bet is to answer any remaining questions honestly and then focus on validating her feelings.  Although it is fine to tell her you miss him too, validation is more along the lines of, “Sweetheart, it really makes sense that you miss him and that you feel sad sometimes when you think about him.  It’s ok to feel sad sometimes.”  Then you give her a hug and kiss, tell her you love her very much, and say goodnight, even if she is still tearful.  This way, she will feel heard and understood by you but also learn to soothe herself through the rest (she probably already knows how).  The reality is that you don’t have answers that are going to make her feelings go away and that when you provide validation for her feelings you give her permission to feel whatever it is she feels without the need to make it go away.  It will, with time, go away on its own and she will get the message that it is ok for her to have feelings and express them to you along the way. 

The answers from our experts are for educational purposes only. Please always refer to your child's pediatrician and mental health expert for more in-depth advice.

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Children usually bounce back quickly from much of lifeís disappointments with the help of parents and other extended family. Death is a tricky topic to experience. There are many childrenís storybooks that can help a child identify their feelings and realize that indeed life goes on. Visit your local library and browse through any number of topics, to broaden interests. Spend time reading every night and discuss hopes and dreams. Time together painting pictures, working with clay - or release a balloon for a goodbye can also help. A good religious foundation can also go a long way; as it can center and strengthen a family. Attending weekly services as well as funerals as a family can be very healing for all of us. We can support people who are enduring some of the most difficult situations in life. Lastly, do not make the daily feelings of the child the central family focus. Itís too much pressure. Reach out to others who may be lonely or less fortunate. Volunteer or visit an animal shelter and above all include young children in daily home operations. Sorting spoons or socks while a parent prepares a meal can be very comforting. Additionally, a garden is a wonderful way for a child to experience life. Plant a few seeds in a sunny pot and care for them. Emotional healing takes time, but it is an opportunity to grow and become more human. Always remember, the LOVE remains. Peace, Lillie
Submitted by teatsy