Anaesthetists increasingly face questions from parents on the long-term outcomes of anaesthesia, and yet more immediate anaesthetic risks are not understood, nor explained to families. This review focused on paediatric anaesthetic-related mortality, cardiac arrest and anaesthetic-related serious adverse events and critical incidents during general anaesthesia, and within 24 hours of anaesthesia ending. Anaesthetic-related mortality is rare in the developed world, and is approximately 1 per 10 000 anaesthetics, but increases in high-risk children. Serious anaesthetic-related adverse events occur in 1.4 per 1 000 anaesthetics in the developed world. Data are lacking from the developing world but anaesthetic mortality is 2-3 times higher in middle-income countries and may be up to 100-fold greater in low-income countries. A critical incident occurs in 3-8% of anaesthetics and this figure is double that in low-income countries. Anaesthetic-related events are predominantly preventable. Brief recommendations on preventative strategies are made and research goals outlined.