It is natural for children to ask questions about death. Adults, in their wish to protect children, may feel uncomfortable talking to them about death. In our experience, children are able to cope more easily when they are given age appropriate, factual answers to their questions.

Listed below are the types of questions that children may ask, and some ideas of ways in which you may like to respond:

Why do people die?

All living things die one day. (You can mention flowers, pets etc.)

When we are alive our bodies have to work very hard. Each part of our body has a different job to do, to help us to breathe, think, feel, move, grow, eat, see, hear, touch, smell, taste, play & work.

For instance, our muscles help our bodies to move, our hearts pump blood round our body, our blood carries oxygen and food energy to every part of us, and our brain sends messages to different parts of our body giving us important information.

When we get old our bodies start to wear out, and then they can no longer do all the hard work we need them to do, to keep us alive. This can happen when we have a serious illness too.

Usually, people live for a long time and die when they get old.

Sometimes people die before they become old. This can be because they have an accident, or they have a serious illness. (You can explain how doctors can usually make us better when we are ill, but that there are some illnesses they are still learning about). There may be other reasons why some people die suddenly, e.g. violent death. (You can name these if you think it is appropriate).

What does ‘dead’ mean?

When someone dies, their body stops working and it can’t do any of the things it used to do. Their heart stops beating and they can no longer breathe. Their brain no longer sends or receives messages from other parts of the body. A dead person cannot move, think, feel, see, hear, or do any of the things that an ‘alive’ person can do.

Does it hurt when you die?

When someone is seriously ill (or has had an accident) doctors give them medicine to stop them from feeling pain. When someone dies, their body stops working, which means they cannot feel any pain.

What does someone look like when they die?

When someone dies their eyes are usually closed which is why some people think they look like they are sleeping, but they are not sleeping. (It is very important to make the differentiation between death and sleep, otherwise children may worry about going to sleep themselves). They may look nearly the same as they did when they were alive, only they cannot move and they will be cold to touch.

If you are considering taking your child to see a loved-one’s body, you can read more about how to prepare your child for viewing the body here.

What happens to someone after they die?

If you have spiritual or religious beliefs you can explain these to your child. If you are not the child’s parent or carer, you will need to check what the family’s belief systems are. You may need to answer in a more general way, or ask the child what they think happens. You could say something like: ‘Different people believe different things. Some people think that when you die your soul or spirit goes to heaven, others think that you are remembered in the hearts of the people who love you, others believe you are born again (re-incarnation)’.

What happens to the person’s body?

When we die we do not need our bodies any more. Some people choose to have their body buried. We put their body in a special box called a coffin. The coffin is then buried in the ground. Other people choose to have their bodied cremated. Their body is put in a coffin and taken to a place called a crematorium, where it is (burned and) turned into ashes. The ashes are then put into a container which you can scatter in a place that is special to you, or they can be buried.

For information on children and funerals, click here.