Should a Child Attend a Funeral?
A funeral is an essential rite that marks life’s final passage. The service, however, isn’t important for the deceased, but rather for those left behind, and this includes children. Funerals help with mourning and allow the grieving process to begin, and being allowed to say a final goodbye is an important part of accepting that your loved one is gone; again, this applies to children as well as adults.
Choosing whether to have a child attend a funeral is a difficult decision—and one you shouldn’t make lightly—but there is no right or wrong answer. Every child is different, every family is unique, and no two situations are alike, so you must consider what's right for your child, your family, and the situation when making this decision.
Children Attending Funerals: To Go or Not To Go
Most children don’t regret attending a funeral; instead, there are many more children out there who are hurt or angry because they weren’t allowed to go to one. Moreover, adults who weren’t allowed to attend an important funeral as a child sometimes find that it affected their ability to mourn properly.
On the one hand, a child at a funeral may be scared or confused, but on the other hand, the funeral gives children a valuable opportunity to see how much the deceased meant to other people. Many parenting and bereavement experts agree that children of any age can attend a funeral, so long as they want to. The point to take away from this is the importance of allowing the child to decide. As a parent, you should explain what the funeral is all about by telling your child:
- What the funeral is for and why it’s an important rite
- Who will be attending the funeral and whose life will be celebrated
- When and where it will happen
Once the child has all the information necessary to make a decision, you should allow him to choose for himself—without pressuring him either way—whether or not he would like to attend. Death can be just as difficult for children as it can for adults, especially because kids don’t necessarily fully understand what death means. You can make this time easier for them by respecting their opinions, giving them a say in what happens, and allowing them to choose how to participate in the grieving process.
Preparing a Child for a Funeral
For a child who decides to attend a funeral, you must help prepare him for what will happen. The first and most important element is explaining exactly what death is and what it means.
For younger children especially, you can help them understand this by explaining that death means the body stops working, that you no longer need to eat, breathe, or sleep, and that you no longer feel pain or happiness. It’s also important to avoid euphemisms because children have been known to interpret things literally.
You can also prepare your child by explaining what will happen at the funeral service, and that it’s a time to say goodbye, celebrate and honor the dead, share memories and stories, and provide support and be comforted. Since children may not be accustomed to seeing adults crying and sharing emotions so openly, you can also prepare them by telling them about the different behaviors they may witness.
As long as your child has been properly informed and prepared, there is no reason he can't be allowed to mourn with everyone else at the funeral if he so chooses. However, if your child decides against attending the funeral, there are other ways he can participate, such as attending the memorial service or celebration of life, being part of the interment or ash scattering, or by taking part in a private service with your immediate family.