Should children go to funerals?
There are several factors to consider when deciding if children should attend a funeral, although most people agree that children should be given the chance to attend, assuming they are comfortable doing so.
Taking a baby or toddler to a funeral
Families with babies or toddlers, often choose not to take them to funerals. Toddlers can be very active, so it is unreasonable to expect them to sit through or remain quiet throughout a funeral service. It can also be unfair for you as a parent or guardian, as you may have to miss part of the service in the event you need to escort your child outside if she/he becomes disruptive.
You should also consider your toddler’s relation to the deceased. The family of the deceased may be less tolerant of disruptions, than if the toddler was a close relative of the person who passed away.
Although taking a baby or toddler to a funeral service may not be appropriate, their presence may be very welcome at a wake or any gatherings afterwards.
Should children go to funerals?
There is no right or wrong decision on whether children should or should not attend a funeral. The decision should be based on several factors such as their age, their level of understanding, the nature of the death and whether you think the child can be well supported at the funeral. Here are some other considerations which may help you decide.
- Their relationship to the deceased
It may be appropriate to bring a younger child to a funeral if he/she is the son or daughter of the deceased. Even if the child is a toddler it may be appropriate for them to attend if they had a strong bond with a grandparent or other relative.
- How you are coping
It is important to consider your emotional state as a parent or guardian when deciding if your child should attend the funeral, although this should not necessarily dictate whether they should attend the service. There may be options you can consider, such as asking someone to support the child throughout the service.
- Let the child decide
Sometimes the best way to decide whether a child should attend a funeral is to simply ask the child directly. Of course, not all children are old enough to grasp the situation and this makes it difficult for them to decide themselves. If your child is too young to understand, as their parent or guardian, you should make the final decision.
If they decide not to attend, you should respect their decision. Instead of attending the funeral, you could ask them if there is a way they would like to say their own goodbye.
If you are still unable to decide, you should explain what a funeral is to your child. Having never attended one, they will not know its purpose.
Explaining what happens at a funeral to children
It is important not to assume that a child understands what happens at a funeral. Explaining what happens at a funeral if an important part of helping the child decide if they would like to attend.
When explaining death and what happens at a funeral, try not to use vague terms and be as clear as possible. You should also avoid telling children than the deceased person has ‘gone to sleep’ or ‘won’t wake up again’. Sleep is a fundamental part of a child’s life, so you do not want your child to become frightened that they might also go to sleep and never wake up, or that you might do the same.
Children are naturally curious about the world, and often want to understand how things work and what will happen. They may also have lots of questions about some of the practical aspects of death and funerals, such as what happens to the person’s body and what it means to be cremated. You should explain the funeral process step by step, as well as the emotions your child may feel. You should also explain that adults will be emotional and they may see them crying.
If you decide your child will attend the funeral, it’s important to make sure they have the support they need. If you are arranging the funeral and are heavily involved in the service, or you feel you may be unable to support the child due to your own grief whilst at the funeral, you should ask a family member or family friend who was not as close to the deceased, but knows the child well, to support them whilst at the funeral. They will also be able to answer questions throughout the service or take the child outside for a break if needs be.
Involve children in the funeral
If you are responsible for organising the funeral, you could include the child in the planning process and find ways in which they can take part in the service if they want, to help them say goodbye. Participation can be public, such as serving as a pallbearer or private, such as placing a picture or memento onto the coffin. What type of participation is appropriate will depend on the age of the child and their level of understanding.
Children may want to:
- Write something to read at the funeral service, or for someone else to read
- Help decide on funeral music or flowers
- Pick a meaningful poem or passage from a book that they would like to read at the service
- Draw a picture to be placed on top of the coffin
- Bring something that their loved one gave them (a toy or blanket maybe)
It is important the child does not feel under any pressure to participate in the service, if there is reluctance or fear, allow the child to opt-out.
Over the days and weeks following the funeral, you may want to ask your child about their experience. Check in to see how they are feeling and if they need to talk through anything they witnessed or didn’t understand.
If you decide not to take your child to the funeral, you should allow them the opportunity to remember the person who has died at another time, if they want to. This could perhaps be with their own ritual of remembrance.
An alternative to a traditional funeral
A number of people, adults included, find attending a funeral can be very distressing. So much so, that when the time comes, they request their family do not hold a funeral for them, as they do not want their family to feel the same distress. Some people really do not want a fuss when they are gone, so may have expressed their wishes for a low key funeral.
Should you be the one responsible for arranging the funeral for a loved one, you may consider an alternative approach such as direct cremation. A direct cremation takes place without any mourner’s present, and without a service beforehand. This gives you the freedom to say goodbye to your loved one, in a way that suits you. You may want to hold a memorial or celebration of life, at a time and place away from the committal, such as a location that was special to the deceased or somewhere you and your family will feel comfortable.
If you are uncomfortable with the funeral taking place without anyone present, an Intimate Funeral may be more appropriate. This allows a small group of family and friends a short time in the chapel prior to the committal. An Intimate Funeral could also be an option for you if your loved one had a small family and circle of friends or if you are worried your child or children may be overwhelmed by those around them grieving at a larger funeral.
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Whether you should take your child to a funeral or not is dependent on a number of factors. As their parent or guardian, you should consider whether you feel is it appropriate.
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