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When creatures die



Suitable for children: 
Young boy looking out a window

Talking to children about death is an important part of their learning. Children who are outside will often find dead creatures like birds, lizards or mice. They will want to know what happened.Sometimes it might be the family pet that has died.

Children are usually more curious than worried, so letting them look and ask questions is helpful. You don’t need to go into great detail and what you say will depend on what your beliefs are. Depending on the creature you may want to bury it and have a ceremony, but let your child have a say in the decision.

Materials you will need

  • Spade
  • Gloves
  • Boxes

Alternative tools

  • Shoebox

Why does this matter?

Talking about the death of an animal helps children to understand about the progression of time and helps them to begin to explore and classify what animals need to live.

What does this lead to?

As we talk to children about the death of an animal we are helping children to understand that time is a form of measurement. We can measure time in minutes, hours, days or years. As we begin to talk about the length of time an animal may have lived or how long it may have been dead we are helping children to use comparative language and to estimate when an event may have occurred.

Language to use

  • Bird, mouse, lizard, ants
  • Flies, fur, feathers
  • Dead, dying
  • Skeleton, skull
  • Grave, dig, bury
  • Sad, stiff, cold, floppy

Questions to use

  • How long do think it has been dead?
  • Why do you think it died?
  • How does it make you feel?
  • What do we need to live?

Useful tips

  1. Children need simple honest answers as they try to make sense of their world. Only give answers that you are comfortable with. There is no need to go into a lot of detail.
  2. Remember to talk to your child in your home language.

More ideas

  1. Your child might like to explore some information about what happens after creatures die.
  2. You could look up information about skeletons or go to the Museum to look at some animal skeletons.
  3. Remember to talk to your child in your home language.

Variation by age

Three to five year olds

  • Read stories on animals dying.
  • Borrow books from the library about skeletons or what happens inside the body.
  • Create science experiments with plants. What happens to the plant if it gets too hot or you do not give the plant any water?

Language to use

  • If your pet is very old or has a lingering illness, consider talking to your children before the death occurs. If you have to put down your pet (euthanise), you may want to explain that:
    • the vet did everything that they could
    • your pet was not able to get better
    • this is the kindest way to take the pet's pain away.