Good-bye Rocky

“How can I prepare my children” a friend asked when he found out they’d have to euthanize their beloved dog Rocky who was dying. Here is what I said:

Always tell the truth. Be sure not to say “Rocky went to live on a farm” or “the goldfish went on vacation.” The death of a beloved (or even not so beloved) pet is often a child’s first loss. It is an opportunity to provide some education about death and what to do with all the feelings that accompany a difficult loss.

You can say “You know how Rocky has been having trouble walking and eating and isn’t able to play outside with anymore? Rocky is very sick and is suffering. When that happens sometimes the kindest thing we can do is to euthanize him – which means we help him to die so that he is no longer suffering.

Be sure not to tell children their pet is being put to sleep. Use the word “euthanize” and explain what it means in simple age-appropriate terms.

Here are some tips to process the death of your pet:

  • Be sure to take time as a family to share memories about Rocky. Parents – you are your children’s role models in this. For example: “Remember when Rocky use to…” or “I will miss having him run to greet me when he comes home.”
  • Have some arts and crafts on hand for your children to draw a favorite memory about Rocky and/or how they are feeling. Keep the crayons, paint, clay, etc. out on the table for the coming week or so.
  • Ask the children if they would like to do a goodbye ritual or plan a memorial forRocky afterward. Children are very creative in coming up with ideas for this.See what ideas they have first. You can suggest burying something symbolically (a picture of him perhaps and his favorite toy) and putting some flowers on his grave are one example. This facilitates healing and expressing feelings.
  • Talk to your children in advance about death and what it means to be dead. i.e. the body stops working and doesn’t eat, breathe, run or play. They are dead.
  • Depending on your children’s age, be prepared for very literal questions such as what happens to his body after we bury him dad?
  • Ask your children if they have questions and answer in an age appropriate way. You don’t need to give more information than is asked for.
  • Let them know how you are feeling. i.e “We are sad, we will miss Rocky.” It’sokay for them to see your tears if you feel like crying. Again, you are their role model for how to express feelings.
  • As with any death, take good care of yourself. Know you’ll be a little distracted or clumsy and have a hard time focusing. You may feel tired all the time. Eat healthy and get enough rest.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Be sure not to tell children their pet is being put to sleep. Use the word “euthanize” and explain what it means in simple age-appropriate terms.
Take Note: Many people find it easier to talk with their children about sex than death! So don’t be alarmed if you are feeling uncomfortable talking about this topic.

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