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Old 05-10-2008, 09:27 AM   #1
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How to explain to a 4 year old...

our oldest cat, doodie, is dying. she may not make it through the day. she has a tumor by her kidneys.

this happens to be my son's favourite cat. until a week ago, he slept with her on a pillow above his head every night.

a few weeks ago, he and i were looking over some old pictures and he saw (and amazingly remembered) another one of our cats that passed before he was 2.
he asked where she was, and i explained that she got old and sick, and went to heaven. he didn't really get that, but understood that he hasn't seen her for a long time, and won't anymore.

then i briefly approached the subject of doodie getting old and sick, and he just made a big sad face, instantly tearing up and shaking his head "no".

so i changed the subject.

we didn't think that this would happen so fast. she was still running around just last week. the doc says because of her age, there's nothing that can be done. she's not in pain, but is uncomfortable, and is not eating. hopefully, she'll go quickly in her bed at home.

but how do i explain this to a 4 year old? any suggestions?

these are the times when life sucks.

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Old 05-10-2008, 09:33 AM   #2
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Buckytom, I feel for your son, it is difficult at any age to lose a pet. If you have time, do check out the link.


Children and Pet Loss
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Old 05-10-2008, 09:34 AM   #3
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I wish I had a good suggestion, but I am jut as clueless. I a watching this topic with interest because it is just a matter of time until we have to explain the same thing, but wit my grandfather.

I wish you luck and strenghth bucky and my heartfelt sympathies for when the time comes.
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Old 05-10-2008, 09:40 AM   #4
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When a Pet Dies

For most kids, pets are more than just animals their families own — pets are considered members of the family and the best of friends.
Unfortunately, the joy of owning a pet goes hand-in-hand with the heartbreak of losing one. Whether it's because of old age, illness, or an accident, the pet your child loves will die at some point.
And that can be very difficult. After all, family pets often are the first to greet kids in the morning and after school. Your pet may be the one your child looks to for comfort and companionship when ill or feeling unpopular or upset.
While it's impossible to shelter kids from the loss of a pet, you can help them cope with the experience. And because a pet's death might be their first time losing a loved one, the process of learning how to deal with it can help kids learn how to cope with other losses throughout life.
Sharing the News and the Grief

One of the most difficult parts about losing a pet may be breaking the bad news to your child. Try to do so one-on-one in a place where your child feels safe and comfortable and isn't easily distracted.
As you would with any tough issue, try to gauge how much information your child needs to hear based on his or her age, maturity level, life experience, and the questions that your child asks.
If your pet is very old or has a lingering illness, consider talking to your child before death actually occurs. If you have to euthanize your pet, you may want to explain that:
  • the veterinarians have done everything that they can
  • your pet would never get better
  • this is the kindest way to take the pet's pain away
  • the pet will die peacefully, without feeling hurt or scared
Again, your child's age, maturity level, and questions will help determine whether you might want to offer a clear and simple explanation for what's going to happen. If so, it's OK to use words like "death" and "dying" or to say something like "The veterinarian will give our pet a shot that first puts it to sleep and then stops the heart from beating." Many kids want a chance to say goodbye beforehand, and some may be old enough or emotionally mature enough to be there to comfort the pet during the process.
If you do have to euthanize your pet, be careful about telling your child that the animal went "to sleep” or "got put to sleep." Young kids tend to interpret events literally, so this can conjure up scary misconceptions about sleep or surgery and anesthesia.
If the pet's death is more sudden, calmly explain what has happened. Be brief, and let your child's questions guide how much information you provide.
Avoid trying to gloss over the event with a lie. Telling a child that "Buster ran away" or "Max went on a trip" is not a good idea. It probably won't alleviate the sadness about losing the pet, and if the truth does come out, your child will probably be angry that you lied.
If asked what happens to the pet after it dies, draw on your own understanding of death, including, if relevant, the viewpoint of your faith. And since none of us knows fully, an honest "I don't know" certainly can be an appropriate answer — it's OK to tell kids that death is a mystery.
Helping Your Child Cope

Like anyone dealing with a loss, kids usually feel a variety of emotions besides sadness after the death of a pet. They might experience loneliness, anger if the pet was euthanized, frustration that the pet couldn't get better, or guilt about times that they were mean to or didn't care for the pet as promised.
Help kids understand that it's natural to feel all of those emotions, that it's OK to not want to talk about them at first, and that you're there when they are ready to talk.
Don't feel compelled to hide your own sadness about losing a pet. Showing how you feel and talking about it openly sets an example for kids. You show that it's OK to feel sad when you lose a loved one, to talk about your feelings, and to cry when you feel sad. And it's comforting to kids to know that they're not alone in feeling sad. Share stories about the pets you had — and lost — when you were young and how difficult it was to say goodbye.
Moving On

After the shock of the news has faded, it's important to help your child heal and move on.
It can help kids to find special ways to remember a pet. You might have a ceremony to bury your pet or just share memories of fun times you had together. Write a prayer together or offer thoughts on what the pet meant to each family member. Share stories of your pet's funny moments or escapades. Offer lots of loving hugs. You could do a project, too, like making a scrapbook.
Keep in mind that grieving over the loss of a pet, particularly for a child, is similar to grieving over a person. For kids, losing a pet who offered love and companionship can be much more difficult than losing a distant relative. You might have to explain that to friends, family members, or others who don't own pets or don't understand that.
Perhaps most important, talk about your pet, often and with love. Let your child know that while the pain will eventually go away, the happy memories of the pet will always remain. When the time is right, you might consider adopting a new pet — not as a replacement, but as a way to welcome another animal friend into your family.
Reviewed by: Jennifer Schroff Pendley, PhD
Date reviewed: August 2006


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Old 05-10-2008, 09:45 AM   #5
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we just went through this with two dogs in the last year ...
we told our son that brutus was very old and had lived a
very good life .. and that soon he would be a star in the sky
to watch over him .. he was upset but he understood ..
when brutus did pass .. he was not home .. but we told him
when he got home from school .. he then wanted to sit outside
until it was dark to see his star ..
good luck to you .. it is always hard to explain these things ..
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Old 05-10-2008, 09:51 AM   #6
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Sorry to hear about your cat, BT. And no experience with kids, so can't help you there.... Tough situation you're in for sure. I'm sure everyting will work out.
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Old 05-10-2008, 09:58 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by love2"Q" View Post
we just went through this with two dogs in the last year ...
we told our son that brutus was very old and had lived a
very good life .. and that soon he would be a star in the sky
to watch over him .. he was upset but he understood ..
when brutus did pass .. he was not home .. but we told him
when he got home from school .. he then wanted to sit outside
until it was dark to see his star ..
good luck to you .. it is always hard to explain these things ..
What a great idea about the stars. I think that is brilliant.
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Old 05-10-2008, 10:03 AM   #8
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Aw Bucky I'm sorry to hear about this. I wish I had some advice to give to you but Billy was a little bit older when we had Max put down. 4 is a tough age when it comes to something like this. It will be tough. But I think the right thing will just come to you.
Stay strong for your little guy.
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Old 05-10-2008, 11:20 AM   #9
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Our kids have been there for two dogs passing. I must have somehow got lucky because each time they took 'last' photos of themselves with the dogs, and seem to understand perfectly that the dogs are in heaven waiting for them. It seems to give them a goal in life to try and be good so they can go to heaven and see the dogs again. They also went with us when we put the dogs down, hugging them and saying goodbye and then watching as they put the dog to sleep. Then they give Daddy some time to say goodbye by himself and go out to wait and look at the other doggies there.
Abby is 3, and if you ask her where Ophelia is, she will tell you, "Phe is in heaven and if you are good someday you will get to see her, but only if you are good as she can only see good people now."
The only thing I said was that, "Dogs do not live as long as we do. She has lived a full life, and it is time for her to pass on and go to heaven." They ran with it and came up with the rest on their own. I saw no harm in what they felt, so I let em go with it.

I get a lot of guff from people about letting my kids go with us and see this, but I tell them this is a very personal experience that differs greatly from family to family, so judging what one family does as opposed to what another does is a pretty ignorant thing to do.
Best I can tell you BT is when the time comes just 'talk' with him about it, and let him be a pat of the conversation as opposed to trying to spend most of the time explaining it to him. He probably already has ideas of his own forming, so you have to set your own boundaries based on what you know about him and yourself, and then let him wander freely within those boundaries.
Good luck and I am sorry to hear about your cat. When she gets to heaven have her look up my Airy (our collie that passed in 04), she always loved to play with cats. And if she needs a pal to watch her back, she can look up Ophelia, she always protected our cat Oscar for us.
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Old 05-10-2008, 11:57 AM   #10
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BT, you have my sympathies.

Your son is fortunate to have you for love and support at this critical time. It's never easy to lose a pet and it's especially hard when that pet has been there your whole life and you are too young to understand what is happening.
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