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Helping Children Grieve your Dog

Helping children grieve your dog can be an emotionally draining experience. Children often form very close bonds with pets, and may not understand the concept of death. Depending on the ages of the children and the circumstances surrounding the death of the pet, there are different ways of helping children grieve your dog.

Very young children often have no understanding of the concept of death. Most children under the age of five years old or so may not understand at all what it means when a pet or person dies. It is especially important with young children to use simple terms about death but to be completely honest with them. If you are having your dog euthanized, you need to explain to children that this means that the dog is going to die. Explain that the dog is sick and his body is no longer working right, and that death is permanent. Using euphemistic phrases like, “putting him to sleep” can confuse your child, who may wonder why the dog doesn’t wake up. This phrase can also cause stress and sleep problems in young children who then will be afraid to fall asleep themselves. Likewise, saying that a dog has “gone away” may lead a child to look for or anticipate the dog’s return. For older children, it is important to explain that euthanasia is a humane decision and that the dog will not suffer.

Helping children grieve your dog following a sudden death is similar, although there is the added factor of the death being unexpected. It is important to help children understand that once the dog has dies that he isn’t suffering or in pain.

Children go through the same basic grieving process as adults, but the grieving period may be somewhat longer. Helping children grieve your dog means recognizing the stages of grief and allowing children to progress through these stages at their own pace. Denial, anger, guilt and depression can all be typical. It is important, however, to monitor your child’s reactions and behaviors for any significant causes of concern. Some regression of behaviors, such as returning to thumb-sucking, carrying around a “lovey” for security, and even changes in potty-training behaviors are not uncommon. Talking openly and honestly with children and allowing them to express their feelings is critical in helping children grieve your dog. If your child shows significant signs of regression, has serious changes in eating habits, or seems preoccupied with thoughts of death, you should consider seeking professional help.

Helping children grieve your dog is a difficult process and is different in every situation. Just as no two adults grieve alike, no two children do either. Recognizing the signs of the grieving process and talking with children in open, honest, and age-appropriate ways are critical in helping children grieve your dog.

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