While no one can be sure of the circumstances of their passing, we must accept that one day all of us will leave this earth. Children should not be excluded from this conversation, as unfortunately children may also have to face the realities of death before they reach adulthood.
It can be difficult broaching the subject of death to children as we want to do our best to protect them from feeling pain and sadness. However, shielding them from understanding an unavoidable reality of life is ultimately doing them no favors. Children deserve an explanation for death, especially if it affects them personally.
The loss of someone who was very near and dear to them can be a traumatic experience for a child. It will be hard for them once they realize that they will no longer have that person in their life anymore.
Children need to be taught about death in a way that they can understand. Use simple words and phrases to explain what death means in a way they can relate to. Let them know that death is a natural part of life and will happen to us all eventually. It’s okay to be sad and to miss their deceased loved one.
Be transparent with your feelings and let them know that you are also feeling sad about your deceased loved one’s passing. Children learn through our example. If we allow ourselves to be honest with our emotions in front of them, they will have an easier time expressing their feelings to you.
But don’t worry if your child’s reaction is not what you expect. Everybody grieves in a different way, including children. Some kids may cry, while others will respond with curiosity by asking a lot of questions. Some children may not react much at all. Remember that children see the world through a different lens and their reaction to the news will be determined by how they are able to process it.
Maybe they won’t fully understand the concept of death just yet and therefore not know how to react. Whatever the case, be there for your child to help comfort them and answer any questions they may have.
The simple answer to whether children should attend a funeral is yes, but there are different factors that should be taken into consideration, including the child’s age and relationship to the deceased. Although death is often sad, grieving is part of the human experience.
Children can and should be able to grieve their loved ones. Funeral ceremonies offer us one last time to say goodbye to our loved ones and to celebrate the years they were part of our lives. Children should have the option to be part of this ceremony and to say their goodbyes as well.
However, if the deceased was someone they did not have a close relationship with, it may not be as important for them to attend the funeral. Memories from a funeral for a person that had little influence on their life won’t be as significant.
It’s generally suggested that infants and very young children should be left at home while attending a funeral. Babies and very young children can’t understand the concept of death or grief. As lovely as your little one may be, there is the possibility they could become fussy or throw a tantrum.
Their behavior, although completely normal for a youngster, could be distracting to the other funeral guests. An exception to this would be if the deceased made a special request for your little one to be present at their funeral. In that case, you would be honoring the deceased’s wishes by bringing them with you.
Older children will better understand how they are expected to act at a funeral, but that doesn’t mean they will. Maturity levels can differ from child to child of the same age. Before bringing your child with you to the funeral, consider whether they are mature enough to act respectfully.
Funerals are a time for family members and friends to grieve their deceased loved one. They should be able to do this in peace, without distractions or interruptions. If you have a hard time getting your child to behave in social settings, for the sake of others it might be best to leave them at home.
Attending a funeral for the first time will be a new experience for your child. It’s natural that they may feel scared or unsure of what is happening around them. Explain to your child beforehand what a funeral is and what to expect.
Teach them about burial and cremation and that your deceased loved one’s body in a casket or urn is nothing to be fearful of. The more you normalize the idea of death, the less traumatic it will be for them to see their loved one’s casket being put to rest.
If the ceremony includes a wake before the burial, consider carefully whether they should be present for the viewing. Your child may seem to be coping well with the death of their loved one but seeing their body could be too scary or sad for them.
Also let your child know what to expect in terms of reactions from funeral attendees. Many people will be upset and crying, while others may be jovial in recounting memories of the deceased. Most will do a combination of both. Let your child know that it’s normal for people to display an array of different emotions during a funeral.
Ask your child how they would feel about attending the funeral. Maybe the idea of going makes them nervous or sad, or maybe they won’t have strong feelings about it one way or the other. Ask them if they have any questions and answer them as best you can.
Take time to listen to what they have to say and offer comfort or guidance if needed. If they are nervous, let them know that you will be with them the entire time. Explain to them that funerals are safe spaces, and nothing bad or scary will happen to them there.
If they are sad at the idea of attending their loved one’s funeral, let them know it’s okay to be sad. Sadness is a part of grieving and it’s normal and even healthy to express your emotions.
Funerals are a way of honoring and expressing your love and sadness for the deceased with other people who cared for them. Let your child know that everyone at the funeral will be sad, and that grieving with them may help them feel more connected to the deceased.
Ultimately, you as the parent will have to make the decision of whether your child will go to the funeral. However, it’s best to let your child make the decision for themselves. If they don’t want to go, have a talk with them and ask them why. If it’s because they are too scared or nervous, try to calm their fears.
But also realize that some children are more sensitive. If they truly are frightened by the idea of going to the funeral, forcing them to attend could be traumatizing.
Your child might also not want to go to the funeral if they did not have a strong relationship with the deceased. They may find it uncomfortable being at a funeral ceremony for someone they didn’t love or know very well. It would feel inauthentic for them to feign sadness that they don’t truly feel. The bottom line is that children who are old enough to think for themselves should be given a choice in the matter.
By giving your child a role in the funeral ceremony, they will feel more involved and their presence more important. If you are the organizer of the ceremony, give your child a special task. Maybe their job will be to find and collect photos of the deceased to present in a slideshow at the ceremony. Or maybe they can assist in passing out funeral programs to guests.
If your child is old enough to read, you could help them write a short speech to give during the ceremony. They could also read a poem or sing a song for the deceased.
If you’re not the person in charge of the ceremony, ask the organizer if there is any job your child could assist them with. Maybe your child can pass out flowers at the grave site for guests to place on top of the casket.
Or maybe you can task your child with making a sympathy card for the deceased’s immediate family or spouse. Most likely any offerings of help will be much appreciated.
Depending on your child’s age, you may need an extra person to help you supervise them at the ceremony. There might be a moment when you need to leave your child’s side (to view the casket or make a speech for example). In this case it would be wise to have an extra set of eyes to keep watch over your child.
If your spouse is not available, reach out to a close family member or friend. Let them know your situation and that it would be helpful to have them there to keep watch.
This person should be somebody, preferably a family member, that both you and your child trust. You should never leave your child alone with someone they feel uncomfortable with. This is especially true at a funeral, as your child is likely to already be in an anxious state of mind.
At some point during the ceremony there will undoubtedly come a time when your child becomes bored. No matter how well behaved they are, there is only so long you can expect a child to keep still. To keep them from making a fuss, bring things with you that will keep them occupied.
Things like coloring books, books, puzzles, or even an iPad with games (kept on silent mode of course) are all good options. You may even consider bringing a quiet snack for them to eat in case they get hungry. The key word here is quiet. You don’t want to bring any toy or device that will be disruptive during the service.
Children are held to a different standard when it comes to social etiquette at a funeral. While it would be rude for an adult to suddenly bring out an iPad during the ceremony, children get a pass.
Adults understand that children can’t grasp certain social settings well enough to know what is acceptable and what isn’t. They are not emotionally mature enough to understand. Besides, it is better they play with their iPad in silence rather than causing a noisy disruption during the service.
The funeral ceremony could become overwhelming for your child, especially if this is their first-time experiencing grief. There is likely going to be a range of emotions expressed by other funeral guests that could influence your child emotionally. Make sure you are there to comfort them if they feel sad or unsure of what is happening.
If your child becomes considerably overcome with emotion, it might be a good idea to take a break from the ceremony. If you can, bring them to a separate location away from the other funeral guests and give them space to collect themselves.
Do your best to reassure them that their sadness will eventually pass and that being emotional is part of the grieving process. Let them re-join the ceremony only when they are ready to.
In some cases, your child may need more help in overcoming their grief. This will depend on how affected your child is by the death of the deceased. Some children are more sensitive and will have a harder time adjusting.
You may want to consider getting professional help for your child if their grief is affecting their daily life. If you notice that they are not doing well in school or becoming more secluded, they may be going through depression. It’s important they get help before it starts to negatively impact their life.
How well you can explain to your child proper funeral etiquette will depend on their age. But children should at least be given an idea of how they are expected to act when attending the ceremony. Explain to them that people will be grieving, and they may not appreciate loud talking, laughing, or whining.
Let them know that they will need to sit or stand still for a long period of time depending on the service. Fidgeting, or moving about while the ceremony takes place is considered rude.
You will also need to explain to them what a cemetery is and how they are expected to act while in one. Tell them that cemeteries are a peaceful place where families come to mourn their deceased loved ones.
They should understand what a burial is and why it is important to be on their best manners while the deceased is being laid to rest. Be clear with them that cemeteries are not places to run around and play in and gravestones should be respected.
Be prepared in the event that your child cannot handle the funeral and needs to leave. This could be because they are too overcome with emotion or because they are not mature enough to behave properly. Whatever the case, decide on a strategy with your spouse or the person you’ve designated as your support team.
Maybe you can scout out the funeral location beforehand and see if there is a special room or spot you can bring your child to until the funeral is over. That way you can re-join the ceremony if your child calms down enough to go back.
If the death was on your side of the family, have your spouse or support person be the one to quietly take your child out of the ceremony. This way you will not miss the opportunity to pay your respects.
But if you must leave, let some of your friends and family attending the funeral know beforehand. They will likely be understanding, as most people know that children will be children. Find an appropriate time to make your exit (in between speeches for example) and quietly leave with your child.
The days leading up to and after a funeral will be tough. Your child may be grieving the deceased or see you grieving. There will be a lot of sad conversations and likely a lot of emotions. While this is natural and normal, it could become depressing for your child to bear day after day. It’s important not to dwell on sadness excessively.
Express your sadness when you need to, but don’t let it overrun every conversation. Instead, talk about fun memories with the deceased. Laugh at all the funny things they did or said or mention all the cool and interesting details about their life.
Ask your child to tell you their favorite funny story about the deceased. Do your best to celebrate their death rather than dwell on their passing. Keep the mood hopeful.
If you are religious or spiritual, teach them what your religion says about death. In some cultures, death is viewed as a rebirth. They believe that a person’s soul never dies and instead is reincarnated. Other religions, like Christianity, believe that a person’s soul goes to be with God and all their loved ones who passed before them.
Death doesn’t always have to be talked about in a negative way. It’s part of the circle of life and doesn’t have to be scary .
Children are naturally curious. Asking questions helps them better understand the world around them. Expect your child to have many questions for you regarding the funeral ceremony. Do your best to answer them before the ceremony but know that they will likely have more questions for you during and after the ceremony as well.
Be patient with your child and answer their questions as calmly and honestly as you can. Don’t get frustrated with them if they have seemingly endless questions for you.
Remember that this is a new experience for them, and they are trying their best to wrap their head around what they’ve seen. Answering their questions will help put their minds at ease.
Later in this article we will list resources for children dealing with grief and death. These resources may answer some of the questions your child has about funerals. It may be helpful to introduce these resources to your child before the funeral ceremony so that they will not bombard you with as many questions.
If your child will not be attending the funeral (either because they are not allowed to, choose not to, or get sick), your child may want to pay their respects in alternative ways.
Maybe your child would like to make a card for the deceased or draw a picture of them. Ask them to think of a favorite memory and have them draw it out on paper. You can have the card or picture sent to be buried with the casket. In this way your child will feel like they are able to contribute something to the ceremony.
You could also give them the idea of making a photo scrapbook of the deceased. Have them find their favorite pictures of the deceased or anything that reminds them of the deceased.
Maybe they have tickets from a movie or show they saw with the deceased. Or maybe they can find something of theirs that can be included in the scrapbook, like a shoelace or letter they’d written.
Your child will have the photo scrapbook to look back on whenever they are missing their loved one. It may help them feel a stronger connection to them and serve as their way of saying goodbye.
Your child might also like having a photo engraved keepsake of their loved one to keep with them wherever they go.
Receiving a gift specially made for them to remember the deceased will make your child feel like they were special to the deceased. Cremation jewelry that is made from your loved one’s ashes to jewelry will add a more personal element to your child’s gift.
They may like knowing that they are able to keep some part of their loved one with them, even if they are no longer alive.
Another option for including your child in the passing of your loved one is to hold a separate memorial for the deceased at home. This might be the best option for children who would like to attend the funeral but are unable to.
Start the service by saying a prayer together, then ask your child to share their favorite memory of the deceased. It may be helpful to sing a song together and look over pictures or video you have of your deceased loved one. You can light candles in their memory and recount stories from their past.
Lighting memorial lanterns into the sky might be a fun way for your child to say goodbye. They can paste a picture of their loved one on the lantern then watch it float up into the sky.
It can symbolize the deceased loved one’s journey from earth to the heavens and beyond. You can sing songs or read poems as you watch the lantern float away. It will be a beautiful sight and likely a memory your child won’t forget.
If your loved one was cremated, consider including their urn in the ceremony. 3D artisan portrait urns will memorialize your loved one with their beautifully painted portrait that your child can look at whenever they are missing them.
Grief support activities: Grief support activities that are designed for children of all ages to adequately express their grief and emotions. These could be useful tools for parents who are unsure how to broach the subject of dealing with grief.
The National Alliance For Children’s Grief: The National Alliance For Children's Grief offers resources for children and parents on how to cope with the loss of their loved one. They offer workshops, help guides, video conferences and more.
Good Grief: Good Grief webinars offer help and education revolving around childhood grief.
Books for grieving children: Books are excellent tools for helping your child understand death in a simpler way. The link provides excellent suggestions to start with, but there are many more available online or in your local library.
Movies: Movies can be more interactive and child friendly ways to explain death and grieving. The link provides a list of suggestions for children’s movies that explore death in it’s theme.
Writing letters to the deceased as a form of grieving: This can help your child if they find it hard to vocalize their feelings. The letters can either be shared with others or for their own eyes only. It may help them feel closer to their loved one whom they can no longer talk to.
Children should be allowed to attend a funeral for their loved one unless requested otherwise by the funeral organizers. The biggest challenge in bringing children to attend a funeral is in whether they will behave appropriately. This is more challenging with younger children and toddlers who can’t quite grasp the significance of a funeral ceremony.
While most funeral attendees will likely understand that children will be children, some might be upset if your child causes any disruptions during the service. Before considering bringing your child to the service, make an honest assessment of how well your child behaves. If you have trouble handling them on a regular basis, it won’t be any different at the funeral.
If you must take your child to the funeral, be sure to think of ways to keep them occupied. Bring their favorite toys and activities, like coloring books, or let them watch a movie on an iPad. Just be sure that your child uses headphones if bringing an electronic device like an iPad for watching movies or playing games. You don’t want them to cause a distraction by having their games or movies making noise during the ceremony.
Children should view an open casket only if they are comfortable with doing so. Every child is different, and some are more emotionally mature than others. First explain to your child what death is in a way that they can understand. Explain to them what burial is (your loved one’s body being placed in the ground) and what it means to be cremated (your loved one’s body being turned into ashes). Make them understand that death is sad, but it is not something to be fearful of.
If there is going to be an open casket, tell your child what to expect when they see their deceased loved one lying in their casket. Explain to them that the deceased will look like they are sleeping, but that they won’t be waking up. Let them know that it is okay to touch them or give them a final kiss goodbye.
Many people will be crying while they say goodbye, and it’s okay if your child feels like crying too. Once your child has a clear understanding of what to expect with an open casket, let them decide if they wish to see it or not. Some children may be uncomfortable with the idea and that’s okay. Don’t force them to view the open casket if they don’t want to. If they are fearful of seeing the deceased up close, they could be traumatized by the experience.
Generally speaking, infants and toddlers are too young to attend a funeral unless their presence is specifically requested. Babies and toddlers are too young to truly understand what death means and how they are expected to act at the funeral ceremony. They could cause a distraction during the ceremony if they get fussy, which might upset other funeral goers.
Older children will have a better understanding of what is expected of them during the service. As long as a child understands what to expect at a funeral, there is no reason they should not attend if they wish to.
Letting your child be part of the funeral ceremony is a great way for your child to feel like they are playing an important role in saying goodbye to the deceased. Children can be involved in the ceremony in many ways such as:
Before taking your child to a funeral, explain to them as clearly as you can what they should expect. This includes letting them know that the ceremony can sometimes be long and likely feel boring to a child. Give them a choice of whether they want to go. If they decide they do want to go, then let them know it is good manners to stay for the entire ceremony.
Of course, children often change their minds. If they get to the funeral and become antsy or find the experience more traumatizing than they expected plan to have an exit strategy.
Let the other funeral goers know beforehand that you may have to leave early if your child becomes uncomfortable. Then wait for the most appropriate time to leave (in between speeches for example) and exit with your child as quietly as possible. Ask one of the other funeral goers to film the rest of the ceremony for you so you can still feel like you were present.
Also think about finding out how long the ceremony is expected to be before you decide to bring your child. If you know the funeral will last longer than your child’s attention span, then it may be best to avoid bringing them altogether.
Fortunately, younger children are not held to the same standard for funeral attire as adults are. While children can certainly wear formal clothing like what adults would wear, it’s not expected of them. Clean and comfortable clothing are the two most important things to consider when dressing your child for a funeral. Clothing that is itchy, or uncomfortable will be distracting to your youngster and might even cause a meltdown. Stick to clothing that allows them to move about freely and comfortably.
Do, however, avoid any outfits with bright colors or silly prints. Clothing with cartoon characters and logos is not appropriate for a funeral. Stick to black or darker neutral colors. And much like adults, shorts, sneakers, and flip-flops will not look good at a funeral. Dress shoes or loafers would be a better choice if you have them.
It is rude to take photos at a funeral unless you are asked to by the deceased’s family. Funerals are a time to remember the life of the deceased and doing anything to take attention away from that could create tension. You may want to take a picture of your younger one so that they will have memories of saying goodbye to their loved one. In this case ask first before you begin snapping pictures.
Although you mean well, other funeral goers might not see it that way. Consider taking pictures of your child in their ceremony outfit before you get to the funeral. They can be wearing their memorial keepsake jewelry in the photo so that they will look back on it and remember who the funeral was for.
No child should ever have to experience loss, but unfortunately there are some things in life that can’t be avoided. We hope the information in this article will be useful for you in dealing with your family tragedy.
It’s hard as a parent to watch our children experience pain of any kind. But children are resilient, and their natural optimism allows them to bounce back after tragedy. With your love and support, your child will come out of this dark period stronger than before.
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December 9, 2021 by Frances Kay