Thoughts on children attending funeral services

By Cindy Burdette, MA, LPC, CHP-SW

You have had a death in the family. And you are wondering "Should my child attend the services?” There are several things to keep in mind as you work toward answering that question.

First, this has much less to do with your child’s age and much more to do with "what steps should I go through in considering if my child should go to the services?” Remember, if a child is old enough to love then the child is old enough to grieve. Participating in a family mourning ritual, such as a viewing, funeral or memorial service can be helpful to a child by providing a source of comfort and a way to say goodbye.

You want to talk to your child about the services before they attend them. Begin by providing education to your child in an age appropriate way to help them be prepared for the experience.  For instance, telling them the viewing or visitation is usually held at a funeral home. Friends and family come to comfort and support the people who are grieving and sad. Describe what your child may see, hear, smell. Let them know what the room will look like-sort of like a living room with couches and chairs and lamps. At the front will be a special container called the casket where the dead person’s body will be. There will probably be lots of flowers in the room that will make it smelly. People will be talking quietly and some people will be crying and hugging.

Help your child understand what to expect at a funeral. Let them know that a funeral is a special time of remembering and saying goodbye to the person who died. Explain that the room will be set up like a church sanctuary or the service may actually take place in a church. The casket will be in the front and it may already be closed. People will talk about the person who died and there will probably be some prayers and some singing. Again, some people there will probably be crying.

Ask your child if they have any questions and answer them in an honest manner. Ask them if they think they would like to attend. If they say yes, make sure you inquire about any concerns or worries they have about attending. Designate a trusted, supportive adult that you know can be available to your child in case you are not due to your own grief. This person could take the child to another room or even out of the building if the child needs a break. It may also help to have an activity for younger children so they have something to do.  Finally, don’t force a child to attend. Give them a choice, but make sure they have the information and support to make an educated choice.