Quick Tip

The Death of a Pet is a Parenting Opportunity

Life events like the death of a pet are an opportunity for parents to communicate your values and beliefs to your kids. Don't be afraid to expose your kids to difficult information. Rather, trust that your kids are resilient, resourceful, and will find a way to make sense of the situation – especially when their parents are clear, calm, and matter-of-fact.

Believe it or not, the death of a pet, of a loved one is not a time for high drama. It's a time for love, and laughing, and the bittersweet truths of life. It's an opportunity for growth for your child.

Kids will take what they can process, and leave the rest. My dog died, many years ago, on my son's 4th birthday. We all went into the woods, sat together in a circle in a spot of sunshine, and told stories about our dear dog. We laughed. We cried. We connected. My kids were sad, for a long time. From that day they began the difficult life lesson of learning to live with loss.

I've noticed, over the years, that the death of a pet has provided my children with a terrific opportunity to express sadness and emotions that they didn't understand. All of my kids, at different times, have found themselves sad and crying about something. When asked, they'd say they missed Sasha. At that point, Sasha had been gone for years, and I suspect it wasn't really about her.

In fact, our dogs' deaths were actually access points to emotion for our kids, a way of expressing something they felt, but which had no clear explanation. Whenever that happened, I'd just be compassionate and loving. Sometimes it doesn't matter what's bothering a kid – they just have to get it out.

I guess it turns out that in life and in death, dogs are fabulous for helping kids express the intensity of their feelings.

This tip is dedicated to Sasha and Hobbson, Nellie, Juno and KC, Max Kane, Jon-Jon and Abie, and all the fabulous canines, current and past, who have loved all of our families – and all of yours!

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