Q: I have two kids—a 10-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl—and we just lost our family dog, who we’ve had since before the kids were born. The kids are understandably very upset. Do you think it’s a good idea to get a new dog, or is it better to wait to give them time to heal?
I am sorry to hear about your loss of your pup. Being a fellow dog lover, I know that it is a tremendous sadness when you lose a longtime furry pal.
Not infrequently, I am asked by a client for help in explaining a pet’s death. And the first thing the parent thinks he should do is run out and get a new pet—I mean immediately. Of course, Dad feels that doing so will assuage the child’s sadness.
How hard it can be for a parent to tolerate her child’s sadness about something over which the parent has no control. But when we shield our kids from experiencing big feelings, like sadness, we rob them of the chance to learn to tolerate and deal with that very feeling. Children of all ages need plenty of experience with their sometimes negative feelings. It is the only way they learn that they will recover and the sun will come out again.
Part of the death lesson is dealing with what happens after a death, both to the deceased and the feelings had by the mourners. Parents don’t actually realize how much there is to whole event. (Here is where I urge you to read my chapter, “Explaining Death to Children,” in my first book, “Just Tell Me What to Say,” or to watch my pay-for-view video of the same name on my website, betsybrownbraun.com.) In mourning and remembering your pet and not immediately getting a “replacement,” you teach your child not only how we mourned but also the lesson that things that die cannot be replaced, neither pets nor people. Better she should start to learn that lesson now. Take this time to remember your dog, mentioning him and the funny or loving things he used to do, commenting on how much you miss him.
This is not to say that you shouldn’t get a new pet. Of course you should. But why not wait a bit, a few weeks or a month or two? There’s much learning about life to be gained by doing so.
Betsy Brown Braun, M.A. is a Child Development and Behavior Specialist (infants to teens), a Parent Educator and Multiple Birth Parenting Specialist. Betsy consults with parents privately, runs parenting groups, seminars and workshops for parents, teachers and other professionals. She is the author of the bestselling “Just Tell Me What to Say” and has been featured on the “Today Show.” Betsy and Ray Braun, Palisades residents for 38 years, are the parents of adult triplets and have five grandchildren, so far.