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Trauma and Our Children
After the bomb went off in Jerusalem's Sbarro restaurant, the telephone lines were overloaded with people calling family and friends to make sure they were all right. Following their natural instinct, people rushed home to be with their children and protect them — even though they don't really know how to protect them from the emotional trauma they knew their children would suffer.
Numbed by repeated terror attacks we ask ourselves, "What are we supposed to do? How can we handle it all?" As one young father remarked wryly, "I guess I never took Trauma for Children 103 at school!"
After the initial shock of a terror attack or other disaster, children exhibit many different types of behavior patterns. Their extent and duration depend on the child's age, his proximity to the event, his connection to either the victims or the location — and how we as parents react. We must never forget that children watch us to see what kind of behavior is acceptable in such a situation.
When we discuss a disaster with our children we should not block out the frightening parts. The child has either witnessed it, seen it on TV, or heard about it in detail from friends. Our natural reaction is to make it less awful than it actually was. We want to protect our children, but trying to minimize what happened won't end a child's fears.
They also look to us for comfort, just when it is all we can do to cope with our own fears and stress. A child can always sense when we are tense, angry or frightened. Trying to hide it simply doesn't work. Yelling, "Shut up, the news is on," and then sitting zombie-like as the horror is re-enacted over and over again on the screen is a sure red light to the child that something is terribly wrong. There is nothing wrong with admitting to the child that something is amiss, that we are upset. But at the same time, we must immediately emphasize that they are not in immediate danger and we will do whatever we can to protect them. The bottom line is - when we "lose it" so do they.
Reactions to Trauma
How close was the child to the trauma?
Visualize concentric circles looking like a bull's-eye. The center circle represents being at the actual scene. The second circle represents having a friend or family member killed or injured — or having your home damaged. A circle slightly farther from the center, would represent a friend's or neighbor's home being damaged — or the children's school. A circle still farther out would represent witnessing the attack through the media. The circle furthest from the center represents hearing about it, but not actually experiencing any visual stimulation. The idea of exposure circles is relevant for all ages and any tragedy but is even more applicable when we are dealing with an acute crisis and those which have media coverage.
How much should I tell a young child?
The closer a child was to the center the more professional intervention he will need. In addition, children who lose a friend often experience irrational feelings of guilt.
Each of us knows our own children best, and we should rely on our instincts. Usually the best advice is the same as for sex education: just answer the questions they ask. Keep your replies brief but honest, and always emphasize that they are not in any danger. Do not go into political explanations or graphic and gory details, but rather address the child's concern in an age-appropriate manner.
A child's age naturally affects how he responds. A six year-old will not really understand the meaning of what he sees on television. A child trying to get his grandmother to watch the Twin Towers disaster on CNN called out, "You have to see this movie." To him it was just like one of the disaster movies he watched with his older brothers.
Very Young Children
Most children under the age of five are incapable of understanding what is happening during a disaster. Often, they will not even ask about the event. If questions are asked, keep the explanations simple. Try to avoid exposure to TV news. At this age, the child may reflect your general mood rather than any specific fear. Simple reassurance can go a long way. After a machine gun attack on a settlement, a parent asked me how to reassure his 4 year-old who expressed anxiety about the possibility of a bullet entering his home. I advised him to give his son a hammer and have him bang on the concrete wall, demonstrating the strength of the wall to him. The issue was never raised again.
Children ages 5-8
One of the first reactions in children this age will probably be expressions of fear. They could express fear for themselves — or for the cat. The focus of the anxiety can be quite broad and inclusive. It may even include an inanimate object like a doll or teddy bear. It may be accompanied by regression into more childlike behavior, such as thumb sucking, bed wetting and even a whining voice. The children may make trouble getting off to school and complain of not feeling well just before the bus arrives.
Sometimes children demonstrate more aggressive behavior to show that "they are in control". At the same time they may become more withdrawn, both at home and in school.
Children ages 8-13
Older children will express the same feelings of fear as their younger siblings. However, they may be wary of talking about their fears, and instead will project them onto others. After a number of drive-by shootings, one boy kept insisting that his brothers were afraid to drive, and that the parents should insist that they wear flack jackets when they took out the family car. Children may also transfer their fears of the outside world into the school world with which they are familiar. One principal reported that children were complaining of a rise in violence in school when there was actually a reduction.
Children need extra hugging and reassuring. A child may regress to whining and/or more clinging, babyish behavior. While you should relate to the fact that they feel an extra need for parental comfort, remember that parents don't have to "hear" everything.
The most sensitive time is usually bedtime. Even in normal situations, children frequently fear the night. In bed in the dark, their half-buried fears and images jump out at them. During times of crisis these fears are naturally exacerbated. If a child shows resistance to going to sleep, there are a number of things we can do to help:
- Offer to read to your child prior to going to bed even if you haven't in the past. This will calm him down and put him in "rest" mode. Choosing the book together is a shared experience that will also strengthen his bond with you.
- Sometimes soft, classical background music about an hour before bedtime or even after he goes to bed will relax the child enough so that he can fall asleep.
- Some children need the extra reassurance that it is OK to wake you up at night if they have nightmares. Often, after a few nights of bad dreams, the child will find the very act of closing his eyes to be stressful since he is afraid that "the bad dreams will come back again." This turns into a vicious cycle and almost guarantees that the bad dreams will reoccur. The trick is to break the cycle and thus relieve the pre-bedtime stress.
- It is a good idea to turn on a night light or to keep the bedroom door slightly ajar. My mother had a wonderful idea she used when we were kids. If we had a nightmare she would come into our room, take the pillow, fluff it up, and turn it around. "Now," she said, "All the bad dreams go down to the floor and only the good dreams will be near your head."
- More than anything else, just reassure your child that you are there and that you love him and his siblings more than anything.
Younger children often find it easier to play out their fears with dolls or even plastic figures. Others find painting (especially finger painting or drawing) and then telling about the picture, a wonderful outlet. Do not guess what the child has drawn. Let him tell you about it. Do not be afraid to say, "I don't understand this picture. Can you tell me a story about it?" And while you are listening to his story, do not minimize his fears. On the other hand, try to provide age-appropriate reassurances. The key is to give the feeling that you are there for him and you will do everything possible to protect him.
Finally, if the child seems withdrawn, speak to other parents and encourage his friends to come over and play.
Complaints of violence may also be a manifestation of their fear of leaving home.
A child who is suffering from ADD or ADHD may become even more hyperactive.
Along with the complaints and the anxiety about violence may be expressions of desire to commit violent acts — especially toward those who perpetrated the act of terror. Some children may become fascinated with the details, the gorier the better, and save pictures of the incident.
It may be a bit rare at this age, but the beginnings of xenophobia, or mistrust of anyone who is "not one of us" may appear. Children who never participated in demonstrations may suddenly show an interest in attending demonstrations, the more radical the better.
While a young child may find it acceptable to voice fears about going out of the house, adolescents consider showing such emotions beneath them, a sign of weakness. They usually do just the opposite of what they feel, and will spend even more time outside the home. At the same time, they may become more belligerent to cover up their fear and uneasiness about the future.
Many teenagers need to show that they are in control of their lives. Much of their posturing is just that, a fa?ade that they use as protection against the outside world. Trauma undermines their sense of security even more, but for the most part they lack the maturity and the tools to work through their fears. Instead, they exhibit more aggressive behavior as a defense mechanism. This aggressiveness may express itself in intra-family relationships, or it may be directed towards other groups. They may make generalizations regarding the perpetrators of terror and express strong, even radical, opinions, challenging you to disagree with them. School grades will inevitably suffer.
Their posturing may be accompanied by increased alcohol and drug abuse. A young man I knew showed no interest in smoking grass although it was common among his peers. When I met him following a terror attack, I immediately noticed that he was totally stoned. He was almost violent when I questioned him about it, Hey, I can be killed tomorrow, why shouldn't I enjoy myself today?" In addition to providing an escape, drugs and alcohol use serves an additional purpose; the user is trying to convince himself that he is invulnerable, "Look how strong I am. I can do drugs and nothing happens to me!"
On rare occasions, parents may hear the adolescent talk about the futility of living. Although we understand that this does not mean that he is suicidal, it is a call for help. He is telling us, "I am scared; I have no control over my future. I don't know which family member will be killed tomorrow. HELP!"
Once children reach the age of 10-12 they often begin keeping a journal. If your child hasn't started one yet you can encourage him to do so by buying an attractive journal and presenting it to him as a present, while reminiscing about how you used to keep one at his age. You can emphasize that it is private and that you will not look at it without his permission
If your child is driving you crazy by repeating stories of what happened, then just take a deep breath and let him. He is trying to absorb what happened in his own way. Each time he retells it he is coming closer to that goal.
Revenge talk can be quite frightening to a parent. Hearing your once sweet 15-year-old daughter talking about "killing those bastards" is unsettling to say the least. While she is emoting her feelings of fear on the one hand, she is demonstrating unacceptable behavior on the other. You can identify with her fears, while setting limits on acceptable behavior. For example, when you hear calls for revenge you can say, "You sound furious," or "You really want to get back at them for what they did." Just reflect back at her the feelings behind her statements. If you do it properly, in a non-judgmental way, it will give you a chance to discuss what she really thinks. It is so rare that we get to see what is deep within our child — and this is an opportunity that can bring you closer.
Older children often have more difficulty discussing fears. So when your son says, "Wow, I had a weird dream last night," put down whatever you are doing, look into his eyes and say, "Great, tell me about it." Don't analyze it with him; just listen. If you feel the need to say something, just respond, "That must have been scary."
Talking about what happened in the news over supper may lead to a discussion about feelings. The way that the news reports events also provides a good trigger for a discussion; Do you believe everything you see on CNN? Are things really as bad as they report?" When you decide that the answer is no (and it probably is), you will also reduce the tensions caused by the news.
If your child was directly touched by tragedy, then he may also suffer from feelings of guilt. Thoughts like, Maybe if I had walked with him from school..." or "I treated her so badly the day before and now..." are going to crop up. Most parents won't realize the depth of their child's feelings unless he bursts out with an irrational statement such as, It's all my fault!" Our initial response is to grab him, shake him, and then hug him, telling him all the while that he is wrong. Such a reaction skips the crucial first step — listening to him. He may believe certain things happened that didn't. He may feel that he could have influenced the outcome of events. This may be the only chance he will ever get to verbalize his despair. If possible, try to get professional help from the school guidance counselor or someone else.
What can I do to Help?
The main thing is to provide an atmosphere that encourages your children to talk freely to you. Remember, don't lose your cool no matter what they say. Give them a feeling of safety and security and a loving home. If I can sum up what is needed in one word, it is "patience." Remember, the recovery process takes time. During this period, try to limit any major shake-ups in their lives, such as moving. Try to minimize any major decisions that affect them, postponing them if possible. As with many difficult experiences, this one can tear you apart or bring you and your children that much closer together. So take a deep breath and try to keep that in mind.
All children need an anchor and a counterweight to peer pressure. The home must serve that purpose. If there are legitimate concerns about safety then they should be discussed. Teachers can also play a vital role in helping set guidelines. This may relieve some of the anxiety and establish a code of behavior, which the child can use as a blanket excuse, My mom/teacher won't let me..."
Although it may be difficult for you, attending the funeral or memorial service can be helpful, especially for adolescents. When my son was 16, a recent graduate of his school, Nachshon Wachsman (referred to in chapter two), was taken hostage and later killed by terrorists. The funeral was held on a rainy Saturday night. We attended the funeral together, cried together, and were overwhelmed by the national outpouring of grief and support by the tens of thousands of people from every stratum of society who came. For all of its sadness, that experience remains etched in both our memories as one of warmth and closeness.
General information for all children
Your child's first reaction to hearing about a disaster or terror attack will be fright. If he is able to verbalize it, that should, of course, be encouraged. None of us have all the answers and children do not expect it of us. When they ask, "Why...?" You can simply reply, I don't know, but I will do everything in my power to make sure that nothing happens to you."
Some parents and children find it comforting to discuss, "What we should do if..." This kind of emergency planning is almost like a life raft to which the child can cling. It also reaffirms your commitment to keeping him safe.
Children have always been fascinated by stories of orphans or evil step-mothers. It plays to one of the most fundamental fears of a child — the loss of a parent. This fear can be projected onto their parents and siblings after a disaster when almost all children will show some kind of regressive behavior; be prepared and handle it gently but consistently. If, for example, you decide to allow a later bedtime for a week, then stick to it and go back to the regular bedtime after the week is up.
Television plays a more and more important role in shaping how we see the world. Everything is broadcast immediately, in color, and on 30 inch screens. Today there is no getting away from the horror and the vividly graphic portrayal of a disaster.
It is advisable to stick to the following rules about watching news on TV:
- Keep the viewing short — don't allow the child (or yourselves) to become "hostages" to the news.
- If you decide to allow your child to watch the news, then do it together. Calm but sincere expressions of concern convey the message that there are still safety and controls around him although something bad has happened.
- Afterwards, discuss what you saw to prevent any internalizing of misinformation or misunderstanding about what actually happened. Children often take what they have seen on TV and expand it until it encompasses their entire world. If your child doesn't bring up the subject then initiate the discussion right after the news. Assure him that no matter what he may have seen, it is unlikely to happen to him.
- Some parents feel uncomfortable with the message, "Don't worry, it can't happen to you," simply because it can — especially in high risk areas. As one parent put it, "And if something ever did happen, won't that destroy any belief my child has in me? Won't it make me a liar?" No, because the key word in the above paragraph was "unlikely", not can't. While it may seem like semantics it also makes a difference in how you follow up the conversation. For example, in the case of a flood in India, you can take out a map and show how far away it is from you. In the case of a terror attack, your child must know the facts — and what he can and cannot do. But the emphasis must always be on the fact that you are taking every precaution to ensure his safety.
- Highlight the positive aspect — while this may seem a bit farfetched it can slightly deflect some of the horror of a disaster. During the Twin Tower Disaster, psychologists advised parents to help their children focus on the heroic behavior of the firefighters who were risking their lives to find survivors, and on scenes of families being reunited.
What to Say
Children need to feel that things will get better. But we, as adults, often unwittingly perpetuate feelings of unease or even despair, by talking too much or too loud. We talk on the phone with friends; teachers talk in the school hallways. These overheard conversations have far more credibility with the children than what we tell them officially. Don't say anything on the phone or on the street that you wouldn't want your child to hear directly.
The more adults rehash the details of an event, the more time it will take for children to get past the initial trauma because we are signaling to our children that we are stuck, like an old record, and we cannot get past what happened. This can create uneasiness and even fear in our children, who depend on us to be their anchors. If you are overwhelmed by what has happened then you must get help as soon as possible in order to develop the strength to help your children.
Keep to Schedule
Mealtime should be mealtime, homework - homework, and, naturally, bedtime - bedtime. Despite their complaints, children need some kind of schedule. It gives them a feeling of security to know that at least at home everything is normal. This does not mean that you should be there with a stopwatch, but it is important for them to stick to a basic schedule.
Helping Others Heal
Often when we help someone else we also help ourselves. If the family of the victim is known to you then the involvement becomes more intimate. If a classmate was murdered, much can be done that is mutually helpful to the family and the friends, such as exchanging photos, sharing recollections, and taking care of younger siblings. Even young children can become "older brothers or sisters" (under guidance), and visit the survivor's siblings during the shiva, as well as afterwards.
Many youngsters express a desire to do something practical that will serve as a memorial for their friends. It's helpful to have the guidance of a youth director, teacher, and/or other professional who can determine if the project is viable and help plan it. It is important that the project be carried out by the youngsters and not by adults with the kids just along for the ride. Building a playground or decorating a school or clubhouse can provide a positive outlet for the kids' tension, frustration, anger, and hurt.
Sometimes when there is not enough room in the house (and the weather permitting) a mourning tent is set up. In cases where adolescents are directly involved in the tragedy a tent can serve as a focal point for peer activities. Under the proper guidance this has proved to be very effective in the positive channeling of their grief. This is important, even if it means putting less emphasis (temporarily) on school during the Shiva.
At times our teenage children are exposed to incidents involving kids their age as in the Columbine High School massacre. Although they never met the victims they can relate to it often strongly. Offer them the opportunity to collect charity in their names or write to the families explaining that especially when a letter comes from someone far away it can do wonders for the family. Older teens in Israel are also encouraged to join the civil guard, or volunteer with Magen David Adom and learn first aid. This has an additional benefit of helping bolster their self-confidence, giving them the positive feeling that they can do something to protect themselves and others.
Changes in Normal Behavior
A parent should be aware of his child's normal behavioral patterns so that he can recognize a change when he sees it and react appropriately.
We have already mentioned some of the symptoms that can occur immediately after a traumatic experience. Sometimes those symptoms only appear weeks or even months after the actual event. This is especially true when there has been more than one such event — or when the child feels that there is a very real possibility that there will be another terror attack.
Noam is a healthy, normal 10 year-old. Like many kids today, he comes home from school, lets himself into the house, and does his homework or plays until his parents come home. One afternoon about a week after a neighboring settlement suffered a terror attack, he called his father at work and asked him when he is coming home. He had never done this before. When queried as to how he can help, Noam replied, "If I tell you something do you promise you won't laugh at me?" After his father made the appropriate response he began, "When I came home I opened the front door and saw the back door was wide open. I thought that there might be terrorists in the house. So I went in the kitchen, took out a knife and walked into each room to make sure there was no one here." When asked why he took the knife, he replied, "It made me feel better."
Later on that night his father went over the incident with him. On the one hand he expressed pride in the fact that his son overcame his fear, on the other he made him promise that the next time he was scared he would call an adult neighbor. At no time prior to this had his son ever expressed any fear of being home alone.
Pets and Stress
The benefits of having a pet
While the saying "The more you give the more you get "may seem like an ad for a charity, it applies to all relationships including having a pet.
A famous analogy can be found in the question, of why the Sea of Galilee has been teeming with life fish and flora for thousands of years, while the Dead Sea is just that — dead. The answer given is that the former receives its water from the North and lets it flow to the South. It receives and gives — so there is life. The latter only receives and therefore is dead.
Pets respond in direct proportion to what they receive. An adult or child who invests time and effort in his pet will find himself rewarded with a loyal and loving pet. (that's a dog — not a cat!!)
Some people are hesitant to get pets because they don't want to expose themselves and their families to the pain of the pets eventual death
Thousands of years ago (a tribe known as the Natufians livening near Jericho became one of the first people to domesticate sheep and dogs (Zeuner F.E.: A history of Domestic Animals). Ever since then a bond has existed between humans and animals. pets.
Any parent whose child had a pet has watched in amazement as an unruly child suddenly becomes gentle and calm when greeting his dog. Many of us have experienced the calming effect of holding and stroking a cat or a dog or another animal. There is something almost magical about a child's relationship with a pet. Adults, too, can benefit greatly from owning pets. A number of recent studies have shown that petting a dog or cat lowers blood pressure in adults. Owning pets has also been shown to have a positive effect on senior citizens, particularly those living alone -- giving them a responsibility for a living creature that requires them to function even when they don't feel like it, raising their morale, and providing a source of unconditional love. If this is true in normal times, in times of stress or mourning, the benefits are multiplied.
Advantages of having a pet in times of stress
There are many reasons why families don't have pets, and it is not my contention that every family "must "have a pet. Nevertheless, pets provide a number of direct befits during times of stress.
One of the key reactions in times of stress is that we feel we are not the "captains of our fate" and have lost control -- and that is frightening. A pet allows the child to exercise mastery. By teaching the pet" tricks" or training him, the child is able to control the animal's behavior and thereby experience a form of empowerment. He also learns self control and patience. In order to teach an animal it is necessary to balance gentleness, positive reinforcement, and discipline in careful proportions. A child has to learn to control his own feelings of frustration if he wants to do a good job. He has to also learn to stick to a task until it is successfully completed. The reward (having the dog respond to "sit") is immediate and is something the child can be proud of. Each success leads to a desire to try for the next.
In times of extreme stress, or after undergoing a trauma, a child may feel guilt, accompanied by the feeling that he is in some way being punished for having been "bad." The pet can provide support for the child by "looking up to him" — something that raises the child's feeling of worth with the unstated" I can't be all bad if my dog loves me."
If the child has been injured, he may at some stage fear people or be afraid to go downtown. Having a pet provides some emotional backup and protection. When a child is with the pet he feels that he is both being protected and is a protector. Children often take pride when their pet displays physical skills (jumping, etc.) or abilities like finding the way home from a long distance. The pet also relies on the child for food, play and, in the case of a dog, to be walked, making the youngster the most important person in his life.
A pet does not judge - it provides love and warmth is never critical or judgmental. The child is loved for what he is, and not what he has studied or what he may become. In many families, a pet encourages interaction among siblings. On the other hand, it can become a source of friction: "I took the dog out yesterday" or "You played with him all day it's my turn!" But it also provides a opportunity for children to learn how to work out a compromise.
A pet sometimes makes it easier for to open up. Some children and even adults simply find it easier to talk about a trauma while holding and petting an animal. Pet —oriented psychotherapy is an accepted and welcome addition to various therapies, especially for children.
Most pet owners have at one time or another found ourselves talking to our pets. When we realize what we are doing, we often feel a bit foolish. Children are often overheard asking their pets what they think or complaining to them about an incident that happened in school. It's not that they expect an answer, but the pet is someone to whom they can freely. Especially in cases of trauma, the very fact of being able to "vent," even if it is not to another human being, is helpful in relieving some of the anxiety.
David (age 10) was hurt in a bombing attack and although his life was not in danger, he had to spend several months undergoing painful physical therapy and to remain at home. Like most small boys David would pass by a pet shop and wistfully comment about wanting a dog. Since the family lived on a third floor walkup owning a dog was not considered realistic. A few weeks after coming home, David's condition allowed him to spend a number of hours alone yet he complained about being lonely. His parents, encouraged by a social worker, offered to buy David a dog. But instead of going to a pet store his parents decided to visit the local animal shelter and allow David to choose a puppy. His mother was almost as excited as David when talking about it: "I haven't seen him so excited and looking forward so much to anything since before the attack!"
Choosing a pet
Any parent who has ever had a pet knows that much of the responsibility for the pet will fall on the parent. No matter how much we stress that the child is responsible, we are the ones who will have to take the animal to the vet, and take the dog out after the child has gone to bed. We are the ones who also have to foot the bill. For this reason adopting a pet must be carefully weighed before a final decision is made. Furthermore, it essential to remember that a pet is a living creature with physical and emotional needs whose satisfaction depends on you. The Torah dictates that you must feed your animal before you yourself can eat. And if after adopting the animal, you decide you don't want it after all, you must make proper arrangements to find it another home — and not abandon it!!
Pets are divided into three categories depending on the degree of contact. Contact A type includes soft furry animals like dogs and cats that can relate to us on an emotional level; contact B type includes animals like hamsters, rabbits, and birds, some of which are still cuddly but less responsive. Contact C type consists of fish and other pets that still demand responsibility but are not capable of showing affection. A child usually prefers the pet that provides the most contact, i.e. a dog or a cat.
But there are questions to be asked? Is the child old enough to accept the responsibility? Do you have room for the pet? The balance between the needs of the home and those of the child must be considered most carefully. Having a pet when one parent is always complaining about it will just raise the level of tension and be counterproductive. The decision must be a family decision, made jointly by all those involved.
In the case noted above, choosing a pet from the local animal shelter also gave the child an added good feeling of providing a home for a homeless animal.
Once the decision has been made, the family should go as a unit to visit various shelters or, if a pure breed is desired, visit a few kennels to decide which animal to adopt.
Often after a few months, when the novelty wears off, we may be tempted to do some of the everyday chores ourselves. This is self defeating -- the child must understand that he is in this for the long run and that quitting is not an option?.
The question is often asked whether, since the life span of an animal is far less than that of a human, won't we be exposing our child to further hurt? Dealing with loss in the best of times is difficult. Throughout our lives we will have to part from people or things that we love. The death of a pet die can be traumatic but depending on how we handle it, it can also be an opportunity for growth. The lessons a child learns from our reactions and how we deal with the loss can serve him in good stead when the need arises.
It is all too easy for some people to make light of the death of a pet especially when comparing it to the other issues discussed here. "It's only an animal" is the insensitive reaction. "That's true," is my response "but it is not the animal who is hurting, it is the child, and his feelings need to be acknowledged and dealt with." Telling a child to "grow up" belittles his feelings and makes him feel as if the sorrow he is experiencing is inappropriate and foolish While we must keep this kind of grief in proportion, we should remember that Judaism places great value on life — any life — and it is appropriate and normal to feel grief for a living creature that has been part of our family and given us joy and pleasure.
If the vet tells you that your pet is terminally ill, it is best to bring all the facts to your family members. They will ask you if you are sure, if there is anything that can be done. They may ask you to get a second opinion. All these issues must be addressed seriously, showing the child respect for his feelings and thoughts. One child asked his parent, after hearing that his pet had cancer, if they could arrange for chemotherapy. In such cases, each person must make his own decision. The guiding principle be preventing tzar baalei chayim — needless pain to an animal. Unlike human life, an animal's life is not intrinsically sacred, and should not be prolonged to satisfy our selfish wish to "have him for a few more months."
Whether you decide to bury the animal in your backyard or in a local forest, the family should be involved. Take your children with you and make sure that the animal is wrapped. It could be in a favorite blanket or in a cardboard box. Dumping the animal in a dumpster is demeaning your children's feelings and will be traumatic effect to them.
When should I get another pet?
Give it time. As with any loss, it is necessary to give the child time to absorb the loss, and to give the memory its space and time.?? Getting another pet after a week thinking it will make the child feel better is a mistake. Only when the child has come to terms with his grief, and is ready to "move on," can he can make room in his life for another pet.
The loss of any type of life is part of the human experience. All life has a value and should be respected.