We are often asked the question, should children attend funerals when someone close to them dies?
While there is not an easy answer to this question, we hope the following information and considerations will be helpful to you.
Adults often find funerals difficult and expect that children will as well, so care needs to be taken not to project your own feelings onto your children. Death is a part of life, and children may not have fear related to funerals and death as adults sometimes think they do. On the other hand, we also can’t force our wishes onto a child who may not want to attend a funeral. Giving children choices about funeral attendance can be an important aspect of their own grief journey. Family traditions and culture are also important considerations.
A 2004 article by grief specialist John Holland reported that following the loss of a loved one, children need information and control. Funerals are events to support mourning and often include important rituals that provide an opportunity for saying goodbye to the deceased, obtaining support from others, and helping the reality of the loss to become real, an important part of bereavement. Well-meaning adults may try to protect children from the realities of death, loss, and grief, but many children who were not allowed to attend the funeral of a parent wished they had been able to, and many of those who did attend found it helpful for dealing with their grief.
Grief specialist Phyllis Silverman article provides helpful considerations about different perspectives children may have on funerals.
Often, children are not given timely or needed information to help them understand what takes place at a funeral, leading to misunderstanding and fear of the unknown. Talking to children about what they might hear or see at a funeral and allowing them to ask questions ahead of time can help prepare them to make an informed choice about funeral attendance. The Dougy Center for Grieving Children and Families suggests children need to know who might be there, what is going to happen, where it will take place, when it will happen and why we are doing this about the funeral. They suggest it’s best to “tell it like it is” in language your child can understand. The Dougy Center provides helpful resources and activities for children, teens, and those who support them in both English and Spanish. The Dougy Center for Grieving Children & Families | Portland, OR
For younger children, having someone on standby who can take them to another room or back home can be helpful, as their attention spans are limited. Older kids may want to have input into music, readings, pictures and other ritual related decisions. The sense of community at a funeral or memorial service can be comforting and validating.
While it’s fine for children to see others crying, as that’s a normal reaction following a loss, it can be upsetting for children if the adults around them seem out of control. To help a child to make a choice about attending a funeral, adults need to talk to them, to answer their questions, to provide preparation, and to plan for the child’s needs based on their age, their temperament, and their attention span.
Provide an opportunity for your child to talk about their experience and ask questions following a funeral or memorial service. This provides an opportunity for sharing important information, experiences, and reactions, and let’s your child know you are available to hear their concerns and answer their questions about difficult topics.
Children are curious, always learning, and often have difficult questions about a number of topics. Here are some helpful tips for parents when children are asking questions about difficult topics. Providing them with your attention, a good listening ear, and helpful, age appropriate responses will keep them coming to you for those important topics. How to Have Difficult Conversations With Kids | Strong4Life