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DrMerc
DrMerc, Clinical Psychologist
Category: Parenting
Satisfied Customers: 4
Experience:  Doctorate Psychologist, Certified School Psychologist
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My 5 year old accidently killed our 8 year old dog. He plays

Customer Question

My 5 year old accidently killed our 8 year old dog. He plays with it all the time, putting it in baskets and making cubby houses outside and dragging it in. They were the best of frineds, our dog loved or son, more than us. Today our son came inside to tell us the dog wasnt moving and wouldnt wake up. When we went outside we found the dog in a container in the sun. Our son had put the dog in it with the lid on and in the full sun. We told our son the dog was dead and won't wake up, to which he replied 'Just give her a biscuit' We buried our dog in the backyard and told our son what he did was very naughty and the dog died because it couldn't breathe and was too hot. He doesn't quite get it. I feel responsible for not knowing what was happening in the backyard, for not explaining what can happen to dogs in containers, for not supervising. He is 5 and a half, not 3, so we thought he knew better. Like I said we had the dog for 8 years and they were the best of friends, but this is going to hang over his head forever. I can't shake how bad a parent I feel... what do I do?? How do I explain to people why our dog is dead???
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Parenting
Expert:  Dr. L replied 1 year ago.

Dr. L :

Hello,

Dr. L :

I am so sorry this has happened. To be honest, this is going to be a tough situation to overcome, but with honesty, rituals, and expression of emotion you will be able to learn from this unfortunate happenstance.

Dr. L :

First...I can understand why you would feel like an irresponsible parent. The guilt and shame you are feeling are natural and normal. These emotions are based on your conscience which is telling you that perhaps you should have been more attentive to what your 5 year old was doing with the dog. And your answer to that is...yes, I could have paid better attention, I could have checked on my son more frequently, I could have been looking out for the dog. All of these things are true. So please accept your own regret for not having done these things and vow that you will be more attentive in the future.

Dr. L :

Please know that this will be a process...that it will take time for you to work through your own pain of losing your dog, of worrying about how your son will understand what happened, and so forth.

Dr. L :

There are several things that need to be sorted through here.

Dr. L :

One is your own feelings of being a bad mother. As I stated above, your own conscience is causing you emotional pain right now. But that pain is our mind and hearts way of getting us to make different decisions in the future. And for you...those different decisions might be to stay more attentive to what your son is doing. It is also to teach your son about the consequences of certain behaviors...in this case...putting the dog in a container in the heat. And also teaching your son about death and grief.

Dr. L :

So..part of your own grieving for the dog and for your own realization that you might have had a chance to prevent this death...is that you will see the opportunity to have to teach your son more about life, about good choices, and that you will see this as a learning opportunity for him and for you. That would allow you to see that some good could eventually come from this tragic situation.

Dr. L :

At 5 years old your son has no ability to understand death. I am going to cut & paste some materials for you to read about children and death so that you can have a better understanding of this.

Dr. L :

I will also make some recommendations about good books.

Dr. L :

The issue here is that you have an opportunity now to help him learn about death and that understanding will grow with time.

Dr. L :

Most children who have pets are likely to experience the death of that beloved friend. So...at some point the dog would have died and your son would have to learn how to accept that death. That it happened in this way...is terribly unfortunate...and brings with it a set of feelings that are unique. Still...try to keep your focus on what can be learned here.

Dr. L :

What you say to people about the dog is that there was an unfortunate accident in the back yard and the dog suffocated. End of story. You do not have to explain more then that. You can say..it was sad and we had a funeral and we are are grieving. Period. You can also say..it is too painful to talk about. Again, end of story.

Dr. L :

Now...let's look at some strategies for helping your son.

Dr. L :

He likely does not understand what death is. And...right now he likely thinks that the dog will wake up or somehow magically come back. He doesn't know that dead is dead. So...

Dr. L :

how you can help him understand the finality of death is to talk about the normal things in our life that do routinely die...plants for example. This is probably the best analogy that we can use as parents to help our child understand that things have an ending. So you might want to get a flower put it in a vase and help him to see how that flower will naturally die. And..that there is no way to revive that flower. You can do the same with a balloon. You fill it with air..and it has life as a balloon. You pop the balloon and the balloon "dies" and there is no way to bring it back to life. Right?

Dr. L :

You said that you had a funeral for the dog. That is very good. Rituals are important.

Dr. L :

What you might consider doing is putting a picture of the dog in a prominent place in the house where you all gather (maybe the kitchen) and every day lighting a candle by the picture as a way to remember the dog and call attention to what a wonderful member of the family he was. It is important that the dog be remembered...for if you "erase" the dog, stop talking about it, and "pretend" that it didn't exist...then your son is going to learn that death also means you are gone forever from memory. And that's definately not what you want to happen.

Dr. L :

Give me a minute here and I will cut & paste a short piece for you to consider:

Dr. L :

A PARENT’S GUIDE TO HELPING CHILDREN
AND ADOLESCENTS WITH GRIEF AND LOSS
Parents serve a very critical role when their child experiences grief and loss. The parent needs to be a strong role model, a permission giver, and a support figure. Honesty, love, patience, and understanding will help resolve the child’s grief and instill a healthy perspective about death.
1. Questions about death should be answered simply and directly. Honesty is critical.
2. The death should be explained to the child to their level of understanding. Metaphors
about plants or animals are most helpful for younger children.
3. Be sensitive to the differences between adults and children:
• Children lack adult means for resolving conflict
• Children have less opportunity to leave an unbearable situation
• Children are more likely to rely on symbolism (drawing, writing, etc.) to describe
their feelings of loss
4. Healthy ways of grieving should be modeled by the parent sharing some of their own
feelings.
5. Give the child time and opportunity to talk about their feelings. Listen carefully, do not
interrupt or censor. Be accepting and nonjudgmental.
6. Avoid euphemisms like “lost,” “passed away,” or making references to sleep or long
journeys. These can be confusing to children and cause fear.
7. Create opportunities for the child to vent emotions, including anger, guilt, and despair. A
child should not be discouraged from crying, nor should they be told to display unfelt or
uncomfortable emotions.
8. Signs that a child may require professional help:
• Denies or pretends that nothing happened
• Dramatic decline in school performance
• Develops phobias or unrealistic fears or has panic attacks
• Engages in socially delinquent acts
• Isolates self
• Dramatic or prolonged changes in appetite, sleep patterns, or energy level
• Uninterested in life
• Threatens suicide
Elizabeth Levang, Ph.D.
Copyright

Dr. L :

This leads me to encourage you to show your own emotions about the dog

Dr. L :

and to talk about how sad you feel, how much you will miss the dog, and so forth. This "modeling" will teach your son about appropriate feelings and give him the permission he will need to grieve.

Dr. L :

Thumpy the Bunny

A Story of Love and Grief Shared by Thumpy, the Bunny

Dr. L :

I highly recommend getting the above book. If your library does not have it, you should be able to find it for sale online.

Dr. L :

I see you are offline now. When you come online I will be notified.

Dr. L :

Again...I am so sorry this happened. I cannot imagine how painful this is for you.

Customer:

Extremely painful, am still crying today. It was my son's first day of Pre-Primary today, I wasn't sure if I should tell the teachers.I feel like such a bad parent.

Customer:

I am trying not to treat my son differently and to forgive, but it was really hard this morning. He knows we are all very upset,myself and my two older daughters were visually upset all day yesterday. We will place something where our dog was buried. A picture does sound nice.

Customer:

So hard not to think about our poor dog and how it must have been for her to die. So very awful and something that is very hard to get over.

Customer:

Will look for the book at the library, as the one I found oniline is $130.

Dr. L, Psychologist
Category: Parenting
Satisfied Customers: 1166
Experience: Licensed as psychologist and marriage and family therapist
Dr. L and other Parenting Specialists are ready to help you
Expert:  DrMerc replied 1 year ago.

HI

I'm so so sorry that you have to suffer this. I see that Dr. L offered some great advice for grieving and helping kids manage death. I would like to add that your little one knows he did something that is making everyone sad and it took away his best buddy. It will be your job to help him manage the guilt of this. He may not fully understand death, but believe me he knows that this is really bad. Make sure you tell him that you still love him and nothing will change that. Make sure you tell him you know it was an accident and that his dog knows that too. Know one is mad at him. (If you are mad at him you need to work on that because he is simply too little to understand suffocation.) Make sure you tell him that you know he would never harm his best buddy. Hep him know that your sadness about losing the dog is separate from how you feel about him. There is a book called DOG HEAVEN that might help. Its is a kids book with pages of what dog heaven is and your son will likely take comfort in believing that his buddy is playing and running in dog heaven.

Be kind and gentle and patient with him and yourself. Take care

DrMerc, Clinical Psychologist
Category: Parenting
Satisfied Customers: 4
Experience: Doctorate Psychologist, Certified School Psychologist
DrMerc and other Parenting Specialists are ready to help you
Expert:  Dr. L replied 1 year ago.
Hello again...
I am sorry that you and your daughters have had a difficult day. Still..it is very good that you are showing your son your feelings...this is how he is going to learn about emotions and how important it is to express those feelings.

All of you are grieving. A member of your family has died and it is important to grieve that loss. Here is a very good book for you to get that will help all of the family:
When Your Pet Dies: A Guide to Mourning, Remembering and Healing Alan D. Wolfelt PhD

This book costs $9.95.

I did see that same $130 book...I will give you the website of Centering Corporation. They have Thumpy's Story in stock at $9.00
http://www.centering.org/index.php?page=book&id=102&pid=388

As I wrote earlier, you are bound to feel like a bad parent here. However, the truth is that you could not have predicted what was going to happen. And..neither could your son. He did not understand the consequences of his behavior. He loved the dog. And he will miss the dog terribly. Like you and your daughters, he will need loving support to understand that he is not a bad boy. Rather he is a curious boy and had no intention of harming the dog.

I am sorry that you are feeling such pain. Finding ways to remember her and to talk about her will help with the healing as it is by remembering rather than forgetting that we work through our grief.

Please let me know if I can be of further assistance to you and your family.
Customer: replied 1 year ago.

Thankyou so much for your help. It is a hard time for us all and as I pick up my son from Prep today I will have a little chat with him. We are ordering something special for our Dog online and will have a special goodbye service for him. But when it isn't so raw. I am a little better this afternoon. Not bursting into tears as much.

Expert:  Dr. L replied 1 year ago.
Hello!
I think having a special service will be very wonderful and will help to turn this tragic event into something wonderful to remember. You might ask each of your children to share a memory of the dog at the service or find other ways to include them in the planning. This will help them form positive memories of the dog and also help them understand the role of "ritual" in grieving.

I'm glad you are feeling less emotional. The healing will take time...

Take care!

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