Saying Good-bye to a Pet

(C) Keiko Sato-Perry 2011

My five-year-old son caught a three-inch long skink lizard the other day.  It was very exciting for both my sons.  The lizard was given a name and a place to stay.

But, by the next day the lizard, which was so agile when caught, moved only slowly.  After a show-and-tell of the lizard at school, I asked my son to release it in nature. “Okay,” he said and let the lizard go in our backyard.

Right after my son released the lizard, he started asking me questions I didn’t understand at the time like, “Can we recycle a lizard?” and  “Can we get another hamster?”

I was confused why he was talking about a hamster and answered without much thought, “No, I don’t think we can recycle a lizard and about a hamster, we can talk about it later.”

Without further discussion, my son went in the house. I didn’t suspect anything went wrong, until I found him playing in the house with his shoes on. We take our shoes off in the house. He knows it and usually follows this rule.

“Shoes!”  I reminded. He kept looking down playing with his Legos.  “It’s time to take your shoes off.”  To this, he stuck out his tongue and blew raspberries at me. Then it finally occurred to me there was something going on. I went closer and bent down to his level, but he would not make an eye contact.

I put my hand on his shoe and repeated, “Let’s take your shoe off.”  My son tried to squirm away.  I kept my hand on his shoe and listened.  Right then, he started calling names so I tried to look into his eyes asking, “What’s up?”

“Nothing!” he answered and tried to escape again.  “Shoes off.”  I repeated.

By then, I came to realize it wasn’t about shoes. I went down on my mental check-list if I was calm, wasn’t upset and if the limit was reasonable. I kept watching him closely while holding the limit to take his shoes off.  I did not care about shoes in the house, but I did care about my son trying to tell me something.

Soon he was in tears. After about 10 minutes of crying loudly and squirming, he started telling me, “You made me lose my lizard. I didn’t want to. And I want another hamster!”

It started making sense to me why he was talking about a hamster when he put the lizard on the ground.  Last year, we lost a pet hamster, my son’s very first pet he had played with every day.  He has talked about her death once in a while.

I responded, “It’s hard to say goodbye.”  He cried more crouching on the floor with me on his side.  I said again very softly, “Bye, bye, lizard.”  He cried more.  Soon he started telling me, “You need to go get the lizard again!” in his tears.  I answered softly, “Okay, I will see if I can in a bit.”  My son cried awhile longer talking with me about the lizard and hamster.

Through listening, I learned about my son’s perspective, which I hadn’t understood initially.  I saw that he just lost his second pet in his life.  His saying good-bye to the lizard might have stirred up his memory of his pet hamster dying.

When he slowly stopped crying, he let me take his shoes off without any problem.  I went outside and found the lizard in the same place, and brought it inside again to show my son.

Later, my son and I released the lizard outside again.  This time, we did it more carefully and slowly, really saying good-bye to the golden lizard that was with us for 24 hours.

—Keiko Sato-Perry, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor

Keiko Sato-Perry

Join Keiko in her upcoming Building Emotional Understanding online class starting April 22.  Register now!

Listen to a podcast of a recent teleseminar “Parenting: Going Deeper”, in which Keiko presented.

You can read more of Keiko’s stories here and learn more about Parenting by Connection in the Listening to Children booklet set.

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