It is often painful to go through change and loss, and seeing our child hurt can be anguishing. While children adapt better than we do sometimes, it is important to honor their need to process an experience so they can understand it. With young children, creating a social story can help give you a meaningful way to handle emotional topics for you both. I had the opportunity to see this in action in my 4 year old. We had moved and I was finding it difficult to maintain keeping our beloved puppy at our new home. I toiled for weeks about the decision to let him go, flip flopping every few hours. It is not my nature to flip flop! Every time I tried to find a way to keep the dog, something would happen that told me I had too much on my plate. I finally made the difficult decision. I prepared my almost 5 year old son and allowed him to discuss anything he wished, acknowledging his thoughts and feelings. My son did not want to give our puppy a new home, but was able to have empathy for the puppy and would often say, “I think he’s lonely, let’s get home.”
I suggested to my boy that he may want to write a book of advice for the new owners. He thought that was a great idea, and dictated his story to me. I wrote what he said exactly, to allow for him to come to terms with the loss without telling him how he “should” feel. Friends gave a lot of advice too, “make it fun” for him to give away the dog, “show him you are O.K” even when I wasn’t. My aim was to teach him how to cope with feelings of loss and change by acknowledging the pain we were both feeling and recognize the reasons the decision was made. When we love, we do open ourselves to pain. Coping with what is true for us in a healthy way is always the best thing if we can do it. Feeling sad for a loss is a natural process of life. I was always careful through out not to assume that my child would feel the same as I did.
At one point he didn’t want to finish the illustrations in the book. I let that be, knowing that he might be ready later. The morning we were to give away the puppy, my sweet boy sat on his Papa’s lap and illustrated the book with him, telling stories of his time with puppy. He presented the book to the new owners, who he had helped choose, they read it in front of him, and thanked him.
I continue to marvel at The Magic of The Social Story for healing and moving forward. Writing is often healing for adults; of course it would be for young children. My son was able to understand his feelings better, while not being talked out of them. He had an opportunity to develop empathy, while contributing to the change in a meaningful way. Taking this kind of time to be present with my son likely avoided extra distress for him with this transition. The magic for me with this story was the closeness and trust this experience created with my son as we let go of our beloved pet.
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