Should My Child Go to a Funeral?Kenny Scott | Sep 29, 2016 | Child bereavement
Are you unsure about whether or not your child should attend the funeral of a loved one?
Taking children to funerals can be a bit of a controversial subject, as many people view it as too sombre a setting, and you might be worried it’ll be too upsetting for your child, or that (if very young) they won’t fully understand what is happening.
However, if you prevent them from going, you might also feel concerned that they’ll grow to resent your decision when they are older, as they didn’t get a proper chance to say goodbye.
In the end, allowing your child to attend a funeral comes down to a very personal choice, but that choice should always come down to you and your child – not anyone else.
From my own experience as a children’s bereavement counsellor, I’m going to explain how you can decide if attending the funeral is the right choice for your child, and also how to help them prepare for the day.
Should my child really attend a funeral?
You might be thinking a funeral isn’t the best place for your child, but you’d be surprised how well children handle these situations. Most of the children I have worked with that lost a parent or grandparent and went to the funeral said they were glad they went, and it wasn’t scary like they had imagined.
Some said they enjoyed seeing their cousins and playing after, and a wee bit of normality like this can be very comforting for them. Afterwards, we did a lot of talking about what they saw there and what they were thinking.
One boy I worked with wanted to talk about someone who was crying a lot at his mum’s funeral, and kept saying: “But it wasn’t even her mum.” This amused him and shocked him and was the main thing he talked about; it’s important to take some leads from them.
How to tell if your child should attend a funeral
Firstly, there is no particular recommended age for children to attend funerals, but the older the child is, the more I’d encourage them to go and say a proper goodbye to their loved one.
However, at this stage it’s so important to speak to them about it, and explain exactly what is going to happen at the funeral before they decide. See how they react, let them ask questions, and let it sink in. This gives your child time to digest the information and think about what they want to do.
Make it clear to your child that they have the option to change their mind right up to when it’s time to go, so there’s absolutely no pressure – and that it’s completely fine if they decide not to go, too.
If your child is very young and won’t understand what’s going on, perhaps you’d feel it more appropriate for them to join you at the wake afterwards – which is absolutely fine, too. It has to work for everyone.
How to prepare your child for a funeral
If your child has decided they want to attend the funeral (or even before they decide), it’s important to fully prepare them for the event – especially if they’ve never been to a funeral before and don’t know what to expect.
Explain exactly what will happen on the day – you can even visit the venue beforehand if possible – and that there will be a coffin there; ensure they also have an idea of what that will look like. Tell your child that people will be carrying the coffin, and that a lot of people there will be very upset.
Ensure your child knows that it’s okay for them to be upset, too, before explaining the ceremony and what will happen afterwards – be it burial or cremation – so there are no uncertainties on the day.
Alternative options for saying goodbye
If your child really doesn’t want to attend the funeral, but you don’t want them to feel too much like they are missing out on a chance to say goodbye to someone special in their life, there are alternatives you can suggest instead.
- Planting a tree or bush in the loved one’s memory, so they can visit it whenever they like
- A special bonfire or fireworks with close family and friends
- Writing the loved one a letter saying everything they didn’t get the chance to say
- Everyone sitting round in a circle and sharing their favourite memory of the loved one
- Making a memory book filled with photos and mementos and stories of the person
I’m sorry for your loss, but I hope you’ve found this blog helpful when deciding whether or not your child should attend the funeral of a loved one. It’s important to talk to them about it and give them the chance to decide for themselves if they want to go – but there are other options if they want to give it a miss.
If you’re looking for ideas for what to do with your loved one’s ashes, you’re welcome to read our ebook: ‘6 Things You Can Do With Your Loved One’s Ashes’.