June was not a very good month for my family. Both of our beloved dogs died in separate incidents within 2 ½ weeks of one another. To say that we are devastated is an understatement, as they were our first children, and I, specifically, still treated them as such even after we had a human child. My daughter A was especially fond of the younger dog, and the older one had just started to accept A into his pack.
A is too young (she’s 2 ½) to understand what death is, and from all of the research I’ve done, death isn’t fully understood by most children until at least the age of 5. She kept asking when they were coming back from the vet, so we decided to just tell her that the dogs died and that means they were gone forever. This has stopped the questioning of their re-arrival. Luckily, she isn’t old enough to ask about where they went. I don’t know if I’m ready for that conversation.
She has, however, started to have a big interest in our feelings. Both my husband and I were by our older dog’s side as he passed, and we had (and still are having) a hard time getting the image of the life going out of Pickmo as we stroked his head. The next day I found myself sobbing at my desk when A asked me if I was sad. My first thought was to hide my face; that I didn’t want her to see me like that. Then, in that split second I wondered how else will she learn about such raw feelings? I wouldn’t NOT belly laugh in front of her, after all.
We sat on the couch and talked about when she’s sad. I used her favorite doll as a prop, asking her if she would be sad if Daniel Tiger got sick, went away and never came back? I told her it’s okay to be sad, and it’s normal to cry when you’re sad. I explained that sometimes being sad makes your body feel bad, but that it’s not something to be afraid of. I added that showing your feelings is important to do and that she could always come to Mommy or Daddy if she were sad, mad, confused, happy or anything else. She honestly seemed more prepared when the second dog, Peanut, passed, though I do wish she’d stop picking out every dog she sees and saying, “Just like Pickmo and Peanut.” I think it’s her own way of telling herself there are other dogs in the world beside the ones no longer in her life, and that’s good.
As parents, it’s up to us to be role models for our kids. They look to us to show them how to navigate the world, so why not teach them first hand how to express emotions? They learn to walk watching us and to talk by listening to us, so I’m not sure why I was so hesitant to show her how to feel. Perhaps it’s my mom instincts kicking in that make me want to play it off as everything is okay and make her world full of happiness, but that does nothing to teach my child an important lesson on the other side of happiness. For as much as I want to shield her, I shouldn’t deny her either. I’m hoping to show her real joy in the near future -when we’ve all healed a bit – the kind that comes from picking out her own dog.
What have you done to show your child how to deal with their feelings?