So why not take the initiative, and talk about it at the first opportunity? The death of a distant relative, a pet, someone else's pet or relative, someone famous in the news- all these events can be the starting point for preparing your children for dealing with death without fear.
Here's a story I wrote to explain death to small children. Feel free to use it to read to your kids, or to give you some ideas about how to explain death without turning it into either an existential misery-fest or a mysterious (and not necessarily comforting) religious enigma.
What Does 'Die' Mean?
Summer is really, really hot where I live. I have to water my garden a lot. If the plants in my garden don't get enough water, they turn brown and die.
Sometimes winter gets really, really cold, too. The water inside my plants freezes, just like the ice blocks in your freezer. That makes the plants die too.
When plants die, you can pile them up and leave them for a while, and they turn back into dirt. Dead plants make really good dirt for growing new plants in.
Everything that's alive will die one day. If nothing ever died, the world would be too crowded. There would be so many old plants and old people and old animals that there would be no room for new ones.
There would be no room for babies and little children like you, and no room for puppies and kittens and baby chicks, and all the other baby animals.
Have you ever wondered what makes animals and people die? Have you ever wondered what happens after they die?
Well, let's start with something you already know about. What happens to your toys when they get old?
Sometimes toys have accidents and get broken, like if the dog chews your favourite ball and puts a hole in it.
Sometimes you just play with them so many times that they get old and don't work any more. Bits of the toy fall off or wear out.
Maybe you can get that toy fixed. But maybe it's too broken, and mum or dad throws it away.
You remember that toy inside your head, but you can't play with it any more. You might feel sad about that.
People and animals get old, too, and their bits get worn out.
People and animals sometimes have accidents, too, and bits of them get broken.
Sometimes people and animals get really, really sick and their body doesn't work any more.
If their body is too old, or too broken, or too sick to get better, that's when they die.
If one of our special animals dies, like our dog, or our cat, it makes us feel sad, because they're not there to play with and cuddle any more. Most animals don't live as long as people.
When one of our pets dies, we don't have to throw it away like a broken toy. We can put it deep under the ground in our garden and let it turn back into dirt. Dead animals make good dirt, too.
When my dog died, I buried her in my garden and planted a tree over the top of her. I was very sad when she died. Every time I look at that tree, I remember her. My dog is still there inside my head, but I can't play with her and cuddle her any more because her body wore out.
My dog was 12 years old when she died. That's old, for a dog, but it's not old for a person. Most people live for more than 70 years.
We don't throw people away when they're too old or broken to be alive. We put their body in a special place,
like in a big box under the ground,
or in a little box in a garden or in our house.
To get a dead person's body into that little box, you have to burn it up first and make it into ashes. It doesn't hurt them. You don't feel pain when you're dead.
We feel really, really sad when someone we love dies. We miss them. It's good to talk about how sad we are, and it's okay to cry a lot. Everyone who loved that person will feel just as sad as we do.
They can't talk to us or play with us any more, and we can't see them any more, but we remember that person inside our head.
We might be sad for quite a long time. That's okay too. One day we'll start to feel better again, and remembering the person who died will make us smile instead of cry.
Probably nobody you know will die till you're all grown up, except maybe your nana or pop. Most people die when they're very old.
Some people live for over 100 years before they die.
What do you think a very old person looks like?
Your body is just like a box that wears out eventually. Inside that body is a whole lot of stuff you can't see or touch, like your thoughts and your feelings.
Can you still think? Can you still feel happy or sad when your body grows old and dies?
Nobody really knows.
Some people think that dying is just like a very long sleep with no dreams, and you don't think or feel anything.
Some people think you leave your old body behind and get born all over again, and start life again as a different little baby.
A few people believe that you're still here, but without your body, so the alive people can't see you properly. That's what they mean when they talk about ghosts.
Some people think you go to a wonderful happy place called heaven, with all the other people who have died.
What do you think?