Preparing Children to Attend Funerals
As a parent, you want to shield your children from unnecessary pain and suffering. You care about them deeply and will do whatever you can to help them. Because of this, if you recently lost someone, you may be considering not taking your children to the funeral.
With the right preparation, most children can attend funerals. Your children may even be better off for the experience. This blog can help you know when children can be taken to funerals and how to prepare them for the event.
Why Should Children Go to Funerals?
A funeral is a ritual. Rituals are important in every culture because they structure important events and give meaning, like how a wedding ceremony celebrates and formalizes the union of two people and their families. Funeral rituals help people find social support, meaning, and emotional release. It’s a way to communally be grateful for loved ones and grieve the loss.
Children are not oblivious to the loss of their loved ones. They also need to grieve, and attending the funeral can help children find closure. Additionally, if children are left out, they may feel resentful for not getting the chance to say goodbye.
At What Age Can Children Go to Funerals?
Children can come to funerals at any age. However, children of different ages will have different needs.
Infants and Toddlers
Infants are unaware of what is happening, so this choice is up to you. If it is more convenient to you to leave your child with a babysitter, that’s okay. It’s also okay to bring your child with you if you’d like.
Toddlers may be more aware of the person who has died, which means they may benefit from coming to the funeral. However, the choice is still up to you. One of the factors in your decision will be that a toddler may become very bored during the funeral and need to be taken out. If you’re up to this or have someone you trust who can help you, then there is no reason a toddler can’t come.
If your child is between three and six years old, he or she is probably beginning to grasp the concept of death. However, your child may not yet understand that death is permanent-he or she may repeatedly ask when the loved one is coming back. This is normal, and you can gently help your child understand what death means. (The next section will discuss how to do this.)
Starting at this age, coming to a funeral can be very helpful. Even if they don’t fully understand, these children often need the chance to say goodbye, be with relatives, and grieve.
By now, most children understand what death is and can decide whether or not they want to go to the funeral. A child should never be forced to attend, though it’s fine to explain what the benefits of going are to him or her. Whatever your child’s decision is, you need to support it.
How Can You Help Children Have a Good Experience?
The most important thing you can do to help your child is to be honest. Grieving and loss are difficult for everyone, but these emotions are even harder when children don’t feel supported or don’t understand what is happening.
Give your children factual information, and make sure you answer their questions. At this difficult time, children need to feel safe and loved as they come to grips with their loss. Though you may be busy with funeral plans and family coming into town, make sure your children get consistent attention and are not overlooked.
Very young children will need more information to understand what’s happening. You may need to explain what “dead” means. Be straightforward and calm-explain that the loved one no longer needs to do things like breathe, eat, or go to the bathroom and that he or she cannot get hurt anymore. Do not use euphemisms like “sleeping” or “passed away.” Your child may take them literally and get confused.
Do not force your child to go to the funeral or to view or touch the body. When your child has a choice, he or she is more likely to feel safe and supported and is less likely to be scared. It’s also important to let your child know in advance what the funeral itself will be like and what will happen there. Children may be surprised to see adults crying, and they need reassurance that this is okay.
Dealing with death, loss, and grief is difficult. While you may feel like you can shield your children by not letting them come to the funeral, they will still have to process their emotions-they will just do so without the community support funerals bring. Give your children the information they need, and if they want to attend the funeral, let them.
If you are struggling during this difficult time, get the support you need as well. Remember, if you are overwhelmed, you will not be able to help your children. Reach out to family and professionals who can lighten your load. We hope that attending your loved one’s funeral gives you and your children the closure you need.