When a young child hears that someone died, it's natural for him to wonder whether he'll die too, or whether those who are most dear to him too die quite unexpectedly. So what kind of a response should one give in keeping with a Theravada Buddhist Perspective?
Use a tree as an example. Show the various stages of a tree from seed to plant to fully grown tree to an old leafless tree and explain the ageing and impermanence. Then show a decayed/dead tree that is on the ground to make him understand that everything that begins must end. You can use pictures for this. Then explain the life of an animal in the same way. And then explain how humans are the same way.
Finally, show a seed of the dead tree and show how a new plant comes from it. Use that to explain rebirth.
When you come across a situation where a friend is in pain or suffering, in mental distress, and dying you often can’t reach that person. They’re in their own private world, suffering their own private pains and torments. And especially at death, there comes a point where even before the actual moment of death, you realize that the person is beyond you. You can’t reach in and help, no matter how much you might want to. Such a situation is all-the-more harder if you are a child. A child's capacity to understand death and dying — and your approach to discussing it — will vary according to the child's age. Each child is unique, but as a practicing Buddhist who holds dear the five precepts, one needs to be honest. No matter how difficult it is one must be honest with kids and encourage questions. This can be hard because you may not have all of the answers. But it's important to create an atmosphere of comfort and openness, and send the message that there's no one right or wrong way to feel. This is the moment to share any spiritual beliefs you have about death.
So we have to be ready for such moments in our lives. We have to learn how to observe from within what kind of thinking is skillful, what kind of acting, what kind of speaking is skillful, and what kind is not. Until kids are about 5 or 6 years old, their view of the world is very literal. So it is best to explain the death in basic and concrete terms. If the loved one was ill or elderly, for example, you might explain in one way. If someone dies suddenly, like in an accident, you might explain what happened — and reflect through dhamma. You may have to explain that "dying" or "dead" means as per the scriptures.
Death could come at any time: your death, the death of your family, the death of other people. It’s there just waiting to happen. Kids this young often have a hard time understanding that all people and living things die sooner or later, and that it's final and they won't come back. So even after you've explained this, kids may continue to ask where the loved one is or when the person is returning. As frustrating as this can be, continue to calmly reiterate that the person has died and can't come back. Avoid saying such things as the loved one "went away" or "went to sleep" or even that your family "lost" the person. This may also be a time to share what is said in the Dhamma about an afterlife or heaven. Kids from the ages of about 6 to 10 start to grasp the finality of death, even if they don't understand that it will happen to every living thing one day. Remember that kids deal best with death when given accurate, simple, clear, and honest explanations about what happened.
Teens tend to search more for meaning in the death of someone close to them. A teen who asks why someone had to die probably isn't looking for literal answers, but starting to explore the idea of the meaning of life. It is important that we contemplate death. Then the answers are right there when you need them, when aging comes, when illness comes, when death comes. This knowledge will help you at time of need.