Putting a Beloved Pet Down and Too Many Extracurricular Activities

By Catherine Pearlman

August 27, 2016 4 min read

Dear Family Coach: Our beloved 12-year-old dog has a painful terminal illness, and we have to put her down. How can we explain to our children why we have to act now instead of letting her die on her own? — Devastated Mom and Dad

Dear Mom and Dad: This is pretty complicated. Death is a difficult and painful subject to discuss when it happens naturally to humans. It is that much more challenging to explain pet euthanasia.

As with any difficult concept, the best way to explain this to children is with age-appropriate detail and honesty. Start the conversation with the illness. Explain it briefly, and explain that the dog will certainly die and perhaps will suffer. Then, pause the conversation. Allow for a wide variety of reactions. Before discussing how she will die, process the concept of death and the sadness that may arise from losing an important member of the family. You might cry and break down. That's just fine. You have emotions, and seeing you deal with them will help your children process theirs.

After a short time, move on to explaining putting her down. Tell the kids that it is common practice to humanely put a dog to rest when it is too sick to live without suffering. Describe the process of going to the veterinarian's office and the doctor administering drugs to peacefully end the dog's life — again, in an age-appropriate way. Be careful not to say that the dog is being "put to sleep," as that could be frightening and confusing to them.

Before heading to the vet, spend quality time with your dog as a family. Give each family member some special time with the pooch. Let the kids feed her treats and snuggle her. If possible, let them pick out favorite blankets or toys to bring to the vet when the time comes. However, don't take the kids to the vet to say goodbye.

Your children may have lots of questions over the coming days and weeks. Take time to answer them all thoughtfully, even if they are repetitive. Provide reassurance as needed.

Dear Family Coach: How many extracurricular activities (including sports) should kids do during week, and how many is too many? — Feeling Overcommitted

Dear Overcommitted: After-school activities are meant to be fun and enlightening. However, when children are scheduled to the max there are diminishing returns. Children who are overscheduled might have difficulty fitting in schoolwork or social obligations. They might be exhausted and irritable. And the effects on parents aren't any better. Mothers and fathers spend oodles of money on these activities and feel the strain of constantly shuffling from here to there.

Unfortunately, there isn't a definitive number for too many activities. Some activities are once a week, while others are several times a week. Some require more preparation or a bigger time commitment. For example, a piano lesson might happen once a week, but there is an expectation that the child will practice many times outside of the lesson. And some activities like art class may help children decompress and feel less stressed.

As a rule of thumb, I recommend having at least two days a week where there are no after-school undertakings. To do this, it might be necessary to restrict kids to no more than two to three activities per semester. This allows them to have some down time to catch up with friends or gather for a family dinner. The children may have to coordinate to make their schedules line up.

Dr. Catherine Pearlman, the founder of The Family Coach, LLC, advises parents on all matters of child rearing. To write to Dr. Pearlman, send her an email at [email protected] To find out more about Dr. Catherine Pearlman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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