As adults, our understanding of death and grief is much different from how we grasped these concepts when we were little. People rarely forget the first time they lose someone they love or the first funeral they attended with parents or family, and the way children are first introduced to this inevitable part of life will likely remain with them throughout their lives.
Like adults, children need the chance to grieve and share their grief with others. If you're wondering if it's ok to bring your child to a funeral or memorial service, take a moment to consider the funeral's impact on the child, as well as how the child may impact the services.
No Two Kids Are Alike
As a parent, you already understand your child is unique. From a young age, each child develops their own individual mannerisms and habits. And each child's ability to handle complex concepts, like the finality and sorrow that accompany death, hinges on who they are and where they are in their development.
While there's no "right age" for a child to attend a funeral, the child's maturity is certainly a factor. Traditional funerals can be long and somber events, and small children may not be able to sit still or remain quiet for long stretches of time. However, that should not deter you from including them.
Fussy infants and restless toddlers can be taken to a separate room or outside until they are calm. Oftentimes, babies and children bring joy and comfort to an otherwise heavy experience.
If your child is old enough to have a discussion about it, talk to them first. Telling your child what the experience will be like and what it means for the people attending can help them understand the funeral's purpose and alleviate any fears or anxiety they may have.
Ask your child how they feel about it, too. Do they have any questions? Start with concepts your child already understands, like family, not being able to see people you care about anymore, and being sad about it, then work from there to explain the situation. Children who are old enough to understand should be allowed the choice to go to the funeral or not, and that decision should be respected.
Preparing Your Child for the Funeral
Funerals play a deeply meaningful role in communities by helping people share their grief and begin healing. But funerals are also painful and filled with difficult emotions. People often cry and openly express their grief, and without a prior understanding of what's going on, this environment could be stressful or uncomfortable for a child. (It can be uncomfortable for adults, too.)
It can be helpful to walk through each part of the funeral with your child to help them prepare. People will be sad. Speakers will talk about the person's life. There might be a religious service. If it's a celebration of life, you may explain to your child that there will also be some celebrating and stories shared.
We encourage children of families of the deceased to come visit the place where services will take place so they can feel more comfortable at the actual gathering. Children can also feel more at ease by attending a private viewing of the deceased before a gathering, so that they won't have to experience it for the first time in a public setting.
If the funeral arrangements include an open casket or public viewing, it's important to explain this to your child beforehand, and check in with them at the event to comfort and reassure them.
Consider Other Guests
When people are mourning, their emotions are heightened. In addition to feeling sad, they may feel physically tired, frustrated, or irritable. When you and your child attend a funeral, it's important they are able to act respectfully.
Other factors to consider are the appropriateness of services. Perhaps the child will benefit from the funeral service, but not the viewing, or a reception that might include heavy alcohol consumption. It's also possible that the immediate family of the deceased may not want children at the funeral. If you can, reach out to a family member or the funeral home and ask them if children are welcome to attend the services.
Children and Grief
Kids need help healing from loss, just like adults. If your child has experienced the loss of a loved one, we provide numerous resources on how to help cope with a death. Children's grief counseling can also help kids better understand death and help them on the path to healing.
We Will Always Need Each Other
The ways in which we process loss and death evolve as we grow and mature. But the need to share our grief and celebrate a life we hold precious with our families, friends and communities, will always be an integral part of healing.
So, it is perfectly acceptable to bring your child to a funeral or memorial service. It is also perfectly acceptable if they don't. At Chapman Funerals & Cremations, we encourage families to include their young members in communal grief. But it ultimately depends on the child, the circumstances, and the relationship they had with the deceased and their family.
We are always here to support our communities in Cape Cod and the South Shore area. If you have questions about our funeral services or need grief resources for yourself or someone else, please reach out to us at any of our ten locations.