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In the last six months my daughter (she'll turn three in November) really got into playing with her grandparents' dog; they live in a different town so we visit them occasionally, and while I don't think she got really attached, she's asking when will be another visit and talks from time to time about playing with or feeding the dog. The dog however was already fifteen, and while we knew it's end is rather close we were completely surprised when it's health rapidly deteriorated to the point of having to put it down due to it's suffering in the recent days.

Now I have no idea how to tell her the dog's dead (and if I should mention death at all) - from what I've already read kids can generally start to grasp the concept of death at the age of six, so it might be not wise to tell her specifically about death (unless it is?); I believe hovewer that I have to say something why she won't be able to see it while treating the matter as seriously as possible for her age.

While I've read the great answers to this question, I think the difference in kids' age may cause some significant differences in what and how should be said and done, so I've decided to ask a separate question.

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2 Answers 2

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This year has been hard for our family because we've had to put down both our dog and one of our cats due to issues of advanced age.

I had expected that explaining it to my kids (daughter's 5 and son's almost 3) would make these decisions twice as difficult, but I was pretty surprised that it wasn't as bad as I had expected.

For the five year old, I specifically made it a point to sit down with her and explain what the cat and dog were feeling (i.e. a lot of pain) because I saw this coming for awhile. Given that this dog doesn't live with you, I would make it a point to speak with your child about what the dog feels when they start getting old, whenever she brings it up. For my younger, I included him in the conversations, but he didn't really fully understand it.

When having the discussion, there was a few things my wife and I agreed upon for how to convey information:

  • No euphemisms - The doggy 'has died' or 'passed away'. Don't say things like 'put to sleep' because we were concerned that they'd get anxiety about going to bed.
  • No discussion of the process with administering euthanasia - I'm extremely familiar with the process given it's happened twice this year in such a short period; one needle for a sedative, a second needle with a lethal dose of barbituate. And the kids don't need to know about either of these things because we need them to be brave when it's time for them to get their vaccines.
  • Be clear that a veterinarian administers this to help the animal - Unfortunately, I don't have an episode of Doc McStuffins to reference them to with this, but we tried hard to make clear that the animal is in a lot of pain and the veterinarian helps them to die in a way that doesn't hurt.
  • Reinforcement is important - My son doesn't seem to fully get it and that seems to be okay. He'll sometimes ask about our cat and we will remind him she's passed away, to which he simply moves on with something else. My daughter doesn't seem to make these mistakes as often and she'll correct my son to if he mentions that he's going to go play with our deceased cat.

Good luck. <3

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When my grandchild was 3, one of my dogs died. Before that, they would play with the dog at my home, and when we video chatted, they would ask to see him, which of course I would do. So they were very familiar with him.

He died suddenly and without warning. Their parents and I discussed how to tell them, and we agreed to simply say that he had died. We explained death to them, and of course they could not grasp the real concept due to their age. So every time they asked about that dog by name (I have 3), I would say, "Max isn't here, honey. Max died. There is no more Max." "Max died?" they'd ask. "Yes, Max died."

This happened a bunch of times. they stopped asking, "Where's Max?" and replaced it with the statement (seemingly out of nowhere, but it was whenever they thought of him) "Max died." "Yes," I'd reply, "Max died. There's no more Max." Eventually they stopped saying that, too. they did ask to see pictures of him, and I'd show her, and they would say, "Max died."

There wasn't any obvious trauma associated with it; they didn't cry or beg to see him or evince any emotion other than confusion. They didn't ask "What is 'died?'" or "Where did he go?" although we did start pointing out dead things to them when we came across them: dead bugs, dead leaves, dead flowers, etc.

They're older now, and don't remember Max. between 5 and 6, they lose many of their memories.

I guess it went as well as it could.

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