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Should Children Attend Funerals?

As a parent, you have a natural instinct to protect your child from harm. So, if your gut reaction to “Should my child attend the funeral?” is “No”, it’s understandable.

Shielding your child from the pain and suffering surrounding a death seems logical. It’s a hard process for you as an adult, so how could a child possibly endure it? While a rational thought, the truth is that preventing a child from attending the funeral service or ritual could actually do more harm than good.

Excluding children from the memorialization process denies them the opportunity to mourn, be with others who are hurting, and to grieve. Children who are not allowed to attend the funeral may feel resentful if they don’t get to participate or say goodbye, which could lead them to imagine scenarios surrounding death that are far scarier than the truth.

Experts agree that children should be given the choice to attend the funeral and participate in the memorialization process, and it is important that their decision is respected.

How to Help Children Decide

To help children decide whether or not to attend a funeral they will need information about what is going to happen. Like you, their world may be turned upside down after a death in the family. When explaining the events of a funeral it is best to keep it simple. Supplying children with the basic four “W’s” can cover the critical components of a funeral:

       Who they can expect to see at the funeral

       What course of events will unfold during the day of the funeral

       Where the funeral will take place

       Why your family chooses to memorialize the dead

Describing the funeral process step-by-step can help dispel any myths or anxieties children may have. For some children, basic information is enough for them to make an informed decision. If your child has any other questions after giving them the basics, answer them honestly and respect their choice once they have made their mind up.

How to Prepare Children Who Choose to Attend

Explain Grief: Children should know that they are not expected to feel a certain way. Prepare them for being around people that may be emotional or even crying, and explain that while that is acceptable, there is no right or wrong way to express grief.

Clarify: Explain that relatives and other people may try to ease their grief by sharing inaccurate euphemisms such as, “Grandma is sleeping.” Clarify with your children that a person who has died cannot breathe, talk, think nor feel pain. Death is permanent and it can be confusing to a child if he or she is made to believe otherwise.

Involve: Children who choose to attend funerals can be involved in the funeral planning as well as in the service. Helping choose pictures for a memorial tribute video or photos for a picture board are activities that allow everyone involved help remember the dead. Giving children something to do, like handing out programs before the service can help them feel purposeful. Ask if there is anything they would like included in the casket. It is often comforting for the child to place a small gift, a drawing, a letter or a picture of themselves in the casket.

Assign a Buddy: If you yourself are not able to be with your child during the funeral service think about assigning a family member or friend to be a “buddy” with the child. This will allow you to fulfill your obligations but feel at ease that an adult is there for your child in case he or she has any questions.

After the Funeral

It is important for you feel confident in your choice to include younger family members in the funeral rituals. After the funeral, follow-up with your child to see if they have any questions or anything they want to talk about. Including your children allows you to gather with them, honor the dead and maybe most importantly, learn how to grieve and self-heal.

Click here for more detailed information on understanding the important role memorialization plays in the lives of youth: