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

Q: 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?

A: 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. 

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