How to Prepare Your Kids for the Death of the Family Dog
Not everything about parenthood is rosy. Helping your kids maintain a positive outlook on the roller coaster ride of life can, at times, be a challenge. And this week, with the death of our dog, we definitely have been on a few twists and turns as we've tried to help our 7- and 9-year-old boys understand the circle of life.
When people think pre-nuptial agreements, they mostly think about money. But for our marriage, my darling husband to be only required one thing: a dog—the dog he had been denied his entire life! Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong! I am deathly afraid of dogs. And don't even get me started on cats. But, I loved @troypattee and what's a girl in love to do? Agree to anything, of course—even a dreaded dog!
A year into our marriage, I started seeing marketing literature all over the house—ads Troy had created for the perfect dog. He had done his research well and was out to prove to me that yellow labs were the friendliest animal on earth. I finally said yes and thus began life with a dog.
Fast forward 11 years to an old, sick dog. Not the dog who incessantly chased balls. Not the dog who ran up the slide or "jumped" on the trampoline with the boys. Not the dog that raced through rivers on our outdoor family adventures. Not the dog even I had fallen in love with (yes! you heard me right!), but a miserable, blind dog, causing us to tear up every time we saw her. But how to prepare the kids for the inevitable?
Troy's suggestion? "Let's put Parley to sleep while the boys are at school and when they get home, we'll tell them we took her to the farm."
"What farm," I asked. "The farm in heaven?"
"No," he replied. "Just the farm."
Hmmmm! That's going to go over well with the kids.
Instead, I suggested a goodbye ceremony. A family funeral, if you will, but more of a celebration of all that Parley has added to our family.
Tips for Preparing Your Kids for the Death of the Family Dog
Here's what we did to prepare our kids:
- Explain the situation with candor.
- Bring the kids into the decision-making process, asking for their advice.
- Decide as a family on the course of action.
- Have a goodbye ceremony, where each person takes turns sharing their favorite memory with the dog and what they like most about her.
- Give everyone an opportunity to hug and say goodbye to the dog.
- Take pictures, if appropriate.
- After the dog is "asleep," talk through the process as a family, giving everyone the opportunity to express their emotions.
- As parents: Recognize this is a major loss and be flexible, allowing kids the opportunity to express their emotions as they need to to go through the grieving process.
- Move on, reflecting back on the amazing time you had together, but not dwelling on the negative aspect of the loss.
While losing a loved one—including a family pet—isn't easy, how you handle the process as a parent gives you a teaching opportunity with your children and a bonding moment for the entire family.
What are your tips for handling the death of the family pet?