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Explaining Putting a Pet Down to a Young Child

Putting a pet down and having to explain that to a 3.5yr old is hard.

I was hoping that he just wouldn’t understand or not really notice but our son was pretty tuned in.

This would be the first “death” that my son would experience and I guess in some ways it was the best situation as we knew exactly when it was going to happen and how, so we were able to prepare ourselves and him for the moment. Our son was at preschool when we helped our dog out of pain and suffering by ending his 17yr long life.  Leading up to the day we were continuing to learn how to explain this to a child.

The Words We Used

After many resources and opinions on the matter, we decided to just be honest with him. The words (not exact) we used went something like this: “Cimba’s body is not working very well anymore and he is in a lot of pain. We think he is going to die soon. This means he isn’t going to be here anymore.” 

There was some response in the days leading up to his death but after we got back from a holiday soon after his death, my son asked “Where is Cimba, can we go to the vet and see him?”. This was hard. I think this was the moment it sunk in for the little guy.

It was Heartbreaking

Instead of tears and crying he showed his emotion through hitting us (or trying to), throwing hard things, and laughing uncomfortably.  After calming down we asked “are you upset about Cimba being gone?” And his response was “I just want him here, in our house”. It was just heartbreaking.

This is an example of helping a child through a rough time and not punishing him for expressing his emotion through physical hitting. We didn’t stop him from hitting, we helped him NOT hit us, and helped him NOT throw hard things. 

Have you ever gone through this?

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