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what should you expect when telling a child about a dead pet?

Meaning, what are the type(s) of reply, behavior, questions, etc that are expected and appropriate and mean they have empathy, compassion and aren't sociopaths but are still age appropriate? IE textbook child psychology responses. ages 5 1/2 & 3 3/4

 
hibbingmom

Asked by hibbingmom at 4:16 PM on May. 21, 2010 in General Parenting

Level 35 (71,876 Credits)
This question is closed.
Answers (8)
  • Kids this young don't tend to have any sense of permanence or forever, along with having little expectation that anything much will stay the same for any length of time --there was a time before the pet was there (or when they forgot the pet existed for huge swaths of time) and there is now time when the pet's not there: what's changed for them?

    Adults are way more affected by death than a typical child. Often kids not gravely and say something like 'oh. Can I get another one?' Or, the slightly more likely 'can we have ice cream for dessert?'

    Kids this young live in the moment, and from moment to moment (from their perspective) their whole worlds change for inexplicable reasons. They may at some point wonder where there pet isn't back yet, or even express missing the pet or wish the pet didn't die... but connecting the pieces are just too big for their undeveloped brains, yet.

    Real empathy happens reliably after 14.
    LindaClement

    Answer by LindaClement at 1:54 AM on May. 22, 2010

  • when my son't lizard died i told him i thought he was dead and he asked "what do you mean"..and i said "well, he is not moving or breathing and he is no longer alive." my son cried and asked me if he was going to go to heaven..and i had to tell him yes to comfort him. Then i asked him if he wanted to have a funeral for spike and he said yes...so i got a shoe box and my dh dug a hole in the back yard close to the woods and we put spike in the hole and covered him up. My son asked "mom, how is spike going to get to heaven when he is in the dirt?" Thats when i had to explain to him how your body lies in the ground but spikes spirit will be in our hearts and our memory...then we put spike's fav rocks on top as his head stone and then my son was fine by the next day. A few months later we had to go to my great uncles funeral and my son entertained everyone there by telling how he had a funeral for his lizard.
    shay1130

    Answer by shay1130 at 4:25 PM on May. 21, 2010

  • My son was just shy of 4 when our dog died of old age. I was surprised by how matter of fact and seemingly unaffected by it he seemed. For a week or two he'd interrupt adults to tell them about the dog.
    Anonymous

    Answer by Anonymous at 4:26 PM on May. 21, 2010

  • My daughter is almost 3 and a half and we recently had a pet die. She asked us what was wrong (because I was sobbing- he was my baby) and I told her that Lucius was dead, that he got really old and his body just stopped working, but it was okay because it didn't hurt him. We buried him in a little box and she hugged on me the whole time and said, "Bye bye, Lu. I love you." It took her about a week before she stopped asking in the morning where Lu was. I don't think she really understands the idea of "death", but she does understand now that it means you don't come back.
    kittyhasclaws

    Answer by kittyhasclaws at 4:31 PM on May. 21, 2010

  • When our first hamster died, my daughter cried her eyes out and my other 2 kids were very sad. We put him in a small box, wrapped it with paper ,wrote a message and a prayer and had a burial at sea---we tossed it in the Mosel River in German ....this all happened in 1981 when we were based there . They were aware that death means no return and that we have to mourn.
    gertie41

    Answer by gertie41 at 4:39 PM on May. 21, 2010

  • My kids had really different ways of processing this. When our hedgehog died, my son sobbed and sobbed. He was six at the time. He was really upset. My four year old dd was a lot more matter of fact about it. She wanted to know why Thistle died, and when I explained that she was very old and her body was worn out, she said 'okay' and that was about it for her. However, two years later she will still say that she misses Thistle. I think that both responses are normal for different personality types... my ds is very expressive and outwardly emotional, my dd is very logical and keeps her emotions to herself. Ds is very similar to me in that regard, and dd is very similar to dh. So I think a lot depends on how your child processes things- this reaction will probably be similar to past reactions to emotional events.
    Freela

    Answer by Freela at 4:57 PM on May. 21, 2010

  • When I was a little girl I had a parakeet that mysteriously changed color very often. My bird kept dying and my parents replaced it with many new parakeets, some were blue and some were green. I didn't have a clue. One day the cage was empty and I asked where Buddy was. My Mom said "Oh Buddy went to Florida on vacation to see his family." So I didn't cry because I assumed he would return eventually. Then I just forgot. No Hysterics. Later that year my parents asked me if I wanted to go to Disney world in Florida & I said "No because no one ever comes back from Florida" :) So when my Sons Beta fish died I told him the same thing that the fish went to Florida, and it wasn't a big deal! He's 3. I say let the kid be a kid and don't burden them with death & sadness, there will be plenty of it when they grow up.

    Anonymous

    Answer by Anonymous at 6:32 PM on May. 21, 2010

  • When our beloved dog died, I explained to my 3-yr-old that the dog was very sick and had lots of owies we couldn't see. We kept most of the dog's treatment hidden from our child. She really didn't need to see IVs in the dog. Finally I had to tell our child that we had a choice to make: we can keep the dog here with us, keep giving her meds, etc where she was in pain or we get to make her all better, but we can't ever see her again. It's been 4 months and our child still talks about the dog such as what food she'd like to eat, what toy was her favorite, even drawing pictures. She would ask where the dog was for a couple weeks, and I'd have to explain it again. We never used the words dead, death, or died as they don't gel with our spiritual practice. We have other dogs so that probably helped. Then we got a new puppy, but the original dog has not been forgotten. The transition has been hardest on me to tell the truth.
    kassknits

    Answer by kassknits at 1:14 AM on May. 22, 2010

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