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How to Explain Cremation to a Child

Experiencing the death of someone we love is always difficult but when it happens to a child, it can be downright confusing. Explaining cremation to a child takes a cool head and a warm heart; it requires excellent listening skills, patience, compassionate understanding, and honesty.

At a time like this, children naturally turn to the adults around them for comfort. Certainly, a large part of comforting a child after the death of a loved one comes from listening to their concerns and responding to their questions with honesty. Children don't want us to lie, to stall, to evade, or to ignore reality in favor of a dressed-up version of the truth. While some children are filled with curiosity, others are less so but all children need honesty.

Use Simple Language

Always avoid using harsh or disturbing words, like oven or burn. Especially for younger children, there's no need to use the word crematory or refer to the ashes as cremated remains. However, for older children (especially those who are language-oriented), you may find it valuable to introduce them into the conversation.

Confirm Their Understanding of Death

Before explaining cremation to a child, it's important that they realize what it actually means to be dead. Let them know that once their loved one's death occurred, their body stopped working. They cannot breathe or eat; they can't talk, walk, or even go to the bathroom. And, most importantly, they cannot feel anything.

Introduce the Cremation Process

In knowing their loved one can no longer feel anything, a child will see that cremation doesn't hurt. Their body will be placed in a box and taken to a special room, which will get very hot. In about three hours, all that is left of their body are large and small pieces of bone. These are turned into greyish powder which is then put into a special container called an urn. Be sure to let them know that at all times their loved one's body will be cared for respectfully.

Ask Their Permission

Part of your cremation conversation may involve showing a child the cremated remains of their loved one. They may even ask to see them. However, if they don't, be sure to ask them if they would like to see them before bringing the urn to the table. (You may want to view the cremated remains before showing them to a child so you're more comfortable.)

Always Follow the Child's Lead

It can be so easy to go overboard but when explaining cremation to a child you should only give them only as much information as they want to know at the time. With that said, you must expect them to have more questions down the line as they process the information you've provided.

Come Together in Remembrance

You have an ideal opportunity to plan a remembrance ceremony with the child. Ask if they would like to do something special for their loved one and listen to their ideas with an open heart. Whether you choose to keep the urn at home, bury it in a cemetery, or scatter the ashes in a special place, we urge you to allow your child to fully participate in this last act of love.