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Dan B.
Dan B., Family Counselor
Category: Parenting
Satisfied Customers: 19
Experience:  Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor
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We have reached the unfortunate decision that it is time to

Customer Question

We have reached the unfortunate decision that it is time to put one our dogs to sleep. I need help to make sure we properly handle the question when our two year old asks where the puppy went. We've decided on what to say, but I guess I just want to get as much advice as I can about this situation. She is just now becoming "aware" and knows the dogs by name and absolutely loves them!! We will still have one, so I'm assuming that may help the situation? But I guess I really don't know. This is the first pet we will lose as wellm(for mommy and daddy).
Submitted: 2 years ago.
Category: Parenting
Expert:  Dan B. replied 2 years ago.

danb :

Hi. My name is XXXXX XXXXX I would be happy to help with your question.

danb :

I am so sorry to hear about your dog. Pets are such an important part of the family.

Customer: Thanks, XXXXX XXXXX sucks
danb :

Can you tell me what you have decided to say to your child about the dog?

Customer: When she asks "where's Cassius", we decided to say "he passed away and is in doggie heaven"
Customer: We thought about saying he won't be coming back as well??
danb :

OK. I think that's a great place to start. I think that it is important to emphasize that he will not be coming back.

Customer: Ok, we were thinking that we will talk about it if/when she brings it up. We think it best to not mak
Customer: Make it a "big issue".. Des that make sense?
danb :

The good thing is that at the age of two a child's ability to comprehend many thing is limited. They are still very self centered (in a good childish way) and she may barely even notice.

danb :

I think that addressing it minimally and on an as needed basis is a good idea.

danb :

At this age it is more important that there are some things that you don't say that may be more important than what you do.

Customer: Ya know, I really hope that is the case (she barely notices). She really loves the dogs though. Talks about them all the time.
Customer: So r u saying if she never mentions it, we are right to not bring it up?
danb :

I think that either way is fine, as each child will respond a little bit differently. There is no harm in bringing it up, simply with the words that you used. She will either then want to know what passed away means or will simply go on and not be troubled.

Customer: We think it will be ok for her to see us grieve (within reason). She obviously won't witness the event, but I'm sure she will see mommy and daddy cry a little bit. I know my wife will be devastated (already is). How much should I "let her see" and when should I remove her from the situation?
danb :

If there are further questions the thing to emphasize about death with children are the basic facts and important points. 1.)Death means that the body has stopped working. 2.) The deceased will not be coming back. 3.) Any religious beliefs that you have. 4.) You will be OK.

Customer: Ok. I'm really hoping it goes that smoothly. Any signs we should look out for that you know of? (I.e confusion, I doubt depression as she won't be able to grasp the concept...
Customer: )
danb :

I think that it is healthy for her to see the grief process. Too often we teach kids and people not to grieve rather than showing them that it is OK. She will likely not understand, but will be able to relate to mommy and daddy feeling sad because the doggie is gone. She may even try out some of tears or sadness of her own and this is OK.

danb :

The only real sign that I can think of would be a prolonged expectation that the dog will be back. Or, a fear of death or the "going away and not coming back of other people or animals.

danb :

If this happens, the thing to remember that at this age kids generally only have concerns about this as it relates to them. Continue to emphasize the points above, especially that she will be OK and she should be able to move through this. I really wouldn't expect her to get stuck though, unless there is a really prolonged grief process from mom or dad.

Customer: Ok, we talked about that and decided to choose our words carefully. Like not say he was sick or he went "bye bye". Because she can relate to those "things". And we didn't want her to relate the worst to anything she knows in "her current world". Any concerns?
danb :

Exactly. That's perfect. That is the idea to not bring in terms that she can relate to and will create fear; bye bye, sleeping, sickness, etc.

danb :

Keep the emphasis on the old dog. When dogs get old eventually their bodies stop working and they pass on or die. After this they don't ever come back but go on to live in doggie heaven, or whatever you are comfortable with.

danb :

or not "live" but "be" in doggie heaven or whatever words seem to make the most sense to you. Whatever you can be consistent with. I think you guys have a really good plan with this and are handling it appropriately.

danb :

My Masters thesis was on grief and loss in children and I really wish that all parents could think it through as you have.

Customer: Makes sense. I told my wife that I think we should "never" ask her about it later on..for instance I told her... Don't just randomly ask her about Cassius. Because that would really confuse her. What do you think?
Customer: I thank you for the vote of confidence. The follow thru is important. Game time is thirds
Customer: **thursdsy morning.
danb :

I think that talking about Cassius and how people may feel about him dying is a good thing. But just remember that she will likely "get over it" a lot quicker than you guys will and at a certain point bringing it up to her randomly will make it stand out to her as something that should be a bigger deal or something that should be concerning to her. Be available for her questions and allow her to bring it up if she needs to, but after a certain point she will likely get on with two year old things and the other dog and will begin to move forward.

danb :

As long as you avoid the types of words that you mentioned you will do fine.

Customer: Alright. I appreciate your candidness. Tomorrow is going to suck.
danb :

It will. I know how difficult it is to have to make a decision like this, so I wish you the best and encourage you guys to look after yourselves as well and allow yourselves to grieve.

Customer: Thanks man.
danb :

You're welcome. I will close out the window unless you have anything else.

Customer: I'd talk all night. :). But it's time to man up, handle this for my fam... You've helped make me stronger... Thanks again. We are all set.
danb :

take care. bye

Dan B., Family Counselor
Category: Parenting
Satisfied Customers: 19
Experience: Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor
Dan B. and other Parenting Specialists are ready to help you
Expert:  Dan B. replied 2 years ago.
Our chat has ended, but you can still continue to ask me questions here until you are satisfied with your answer. Come back to this page to view our conversation and any other new information.

What happens now?

If you haven’t already done so, please rate your answer above. Or, you can reply to me using the box below.
Expert:  Dan B. replied 2 years ago.
I wanted to check in and see how things went with your daughter after explaining the situation with Cassius. It is not necessary to respond to this if you don't feel the need. I just wanted to provide the opportunity for a follow up if it was needed.

Best Wishes
Dan
Customer: replied 2 years ago.

Hi Dan,


 


The plans changed, and we just recently put Cassius to sleep (yesterday). So today is day 1. So far this morning (and yesterday evening) she has not asked about him. We think that when a situation arises where she is used to seeing him, she will ask for him. We are still settled on, "Cassius passed away and he won't be coming back". At which point I know I'm going to cry, so if(when) that happens, I'm thinking I have to say something as to why I'm crying. What do you think? I'm thinking I need to tell her daddy is sad because Cassius won't be coming back...

Expert:  Dan B. replied 2 years ago.
Hello again.

I'm sure yesterday and today have been difficult days for you and I am sorry for your loss.

I think your plan as to how to address it with your daughter is very good. It is OK for her to see you cry and for you to explain why you are feeling sad. I believe that it is good for children to see real emotions and to begin to see from an early age that it is normal and healthy to express these appropriately. I hope that everything goes well. Hang in there and feel free to check back in if you need to.

Dan
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
So we told our daughter about Cassius. She was looking for him (she didnt ask for him) so I decided it time to say something. I said, "remember Cassius. She quickly said "nope", but I know she knew what I was talking about because she immediately looked at our other dog, and then for cassius. I then said what we had planned to say, to which she replied, "no, nope, daddy, down, play" and she ran down the beach. She seemed fine, but Im just concerned I chose the wrong venue to talk to her.

I know not to make an issue of it, but do I just leave it alone? She's looked for him a few times (never saying anything). At the times she would normally say his name, she doesn't say anything anymore (like in the morning, in her crib, she'd call him because we (cash and I) would be the two to greet her.

I don't know, I told her, she definitely understood what I was saying. Obviously she can't compute it, but she knew I was talking about Cassius, and she knows he's not around. So hopefully my mentioning him validates her confusion??? I'm sure most of this over-explaining is my grief, but I guess I need to know I've done the right thing!
Expert:  Dan B. replied 2 years ago.
I think you have done the right thing.

Remember that at the age of two, your daughter generally only sees things as they relate to her, although she may have noticed that Cassius is gone, it does not seem to be affecting her to a great extent. This is OK. It means that your daughter is getting what she needs. She obviously feels that she is safe and secure and is not threatened by the absence of Cassius as she likely would be if, say, a parent were to no longer there.

You are likely right that having the other dog around has made it easier for her. It is also likely, due to limited understanding and a different world view, that she will notice somewhere down the road that he isn't there. She likely only notice this at times when it is directly affecting her. At these times you may need to remind her that he has passed on and isn't coming back.

For now though, I think you have handled it well. I don't think there is anything else you need to except go through your own grief. Take care.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.

Hi Dan,

 

I'm sorry to keep this going. Today has taken a turn for the worse. She is constantly asking about Cassius now. She says "Cassius coming back?". Then we tell her no, he is not coming back and that he passed away, and today we added he is in doggy heaven. She is really starting to "listen" to us now when we tell her about him.

 

She normally doesn't sleep well for her naps (she's always been a fighter :)), but today, she's almost been asleep twice and then she hears a noise and says "Cassius"... like today, her door was closed, and my wife and her were in there. I was out in the other room, and she heard me walking around and says, "momma, cassius is outside, let him in". We are just staying consistent and on message. She is a little obsessed with where he is right now. She must have asked 10 - 12 times today. She's telling her stuffed animals that Cassius passed away and won't be coming back... My wife and I are getting worried!

Expert:  Dan B. replied 2 years ago.
All you can do in situations like this is to stay consistent and on message. She is struggling to understand the concept of him being gone, with a limited understanding of death, heaven, etc. So you may need to answer her questions several times over.

The reason that she continues to ask is due to her limited cognitive ability in understanding the concept of "forever" and "never", both fairly abstract for a two year old. She is most likely trying to wrap her mind around this idea as well. So, she is checking in to see if this never coming back thing is over yet. He has always been there as far as she knows and hasn't the ability to fathom the idea of something she knows about ceasing to exist or return. Every child is different when it comes to grief, so there is no way to estimate how long this may continue. But it WILL end eventually. Just as your own grief will. Her's simply manifests in a very different way than for adults (largely due to limited experience and lack of ability to comprehend the idea of forever and never). It is more of frustration and upset over his being gone than it is an aknowledgement that he no longer exists in body. For her, it is more like he has run away and may come back, in spite of what she is told.

Because you are also managing your own grief, everything is likely amplified. If you can, put it in a different context and imagine that it is a two year old asking repetitive questions about a different topic. This is something that is normal and developmentally appropriate. Continue to be patient as she tries to grasp these complex ideas and concepts. Also, remember to remind her that she is OK and even though mommy and daddy are sad, that you are OK too.

As far as telling her stuffed animals about Cassius, this is a very healthy thing to do. Kids often "play out" things that they are struggling with and/or trying to understand. She is using play and her toys to organize this new thing that she has learned about the world. Through play she will begin to formulate ideas and new understanding. More than anything else, this illustrates to me that she is right on track, and while it is a difficult time for the whole family, there is nothing abnormal, or nothing to worry about in how your daughter is dealing with Cassius dying.

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