It’s 8pm on a Friday night and my three year old still hasn’t gone to sleep, tomorrow I will discover that he has developed a 38.8 fever as explanation for his recent bout of objectionable behaviour but right now I can only assume he is punishing me.

The one year old, taking full advantage of this parental distraction granted by his disagreeable older brother, is currently drawing an outline of the skirting boards with red crayon around the entire perimeter the living room.

I am one and a half glasses in to an Aldi Shiraz that was on special for $4.99 with no immediate intention to slow down any time soon.

And this morning, the family dog died.

Yep, today is ace.

Death: it’s not a comfortable subject for the vast majority and certainly not one many parents go out of their way to address with their little ones however as unappealing as it is, it unavoidably tends to crop up at the most inconvenient times.

I worked in childcare for many years before embarking on breeding my own little delights and I encountered an astounding variation of ways parents came up with to avoid explaining the grim realities of death to their child.

The family guinea pig was found unexpectedly quiet in its cage this morning and child attends school to inform his teachers that Fuzzy ran away to join the circus; the neighbours cat was discovered to have been run over by a car overnight but child is informed that Peanut decided to take an extended vay-cay in the countryside; Baubles the goldfish is just sleeping and the list goes on and on.

As a parent, I don’t blame them for wanting to keep their child’s innocence that little bit longer but the fact is, losing a pet is a hell of a better introduction in to the concept of death than if Grandma passes away suddenly in her sleep and little Jimmy thinks she’s ducked up to Woollies.

Children are inherently intuitive creatures, they rely on their instincts and their perceptions far more than we as adults allow ourselves to. By giving them straight forward and plain explanations you empower them to better understand and manage their emotions in such particularly unsettling circumstances.

It’s important to keep the lines of communication open with your child and ensure that they are aware that questions are welcomed.

You can expect them to be confused and not quite grasp the depth of what it means when someone dies. The concept of permanency in particular may be an area with which they struggle to comprehend but reminding them that their beloved pet is not going to return is crucial to their navigation of the status quo.

My three year old is currently telling everyone that our cattle dog ‘Jack is died’ and that he went and had a very long sleep which he can’t wake up from. He knows that we won’t be able to see him again but we have lots of memories and we are going to get a rock with his name on it to put in the backyard to remind us of how much fun Jack had playing with his soccer ball and barking at the neighbours.

Simplistic – yes, but it’s the foundation for understanding that we will be able to develop on as he matures.

You may also like to read:

Talking to kids about the hard stuff 

Child safety around dogs

Fun Things your Kids can do with the Family Dog