Kids and Funerals: Things to Think About

| January 25, 2013 | 33 Comments

We recently had a death in the family: My husband’s aunt passed away after many years of illness. This was the first family death that our children have been aware of, and they had some questions. As we live far from family, only my husband flew up for the funeral, but it did lead to a discussion as to whether it would have been appropriate to include our pre-teen children, had we lived closer, and in what capacity. I did some research on the matter, and have come up with some tips to consider. While we hope that you will not have the need for these suggestions for how to deal with kids and funerals any time soon, keep them in mind for when and if you need them:

  • Try not to force it either way. If your child was close to the deceased, ask him how he feels about attending. Not allowing a child to say goodbye to a beloved grandparent or uncle could be as detrimental as forcing him to attend a funeral that he finds scary or disturbing. While you probably won’t want to bring a toddler to a funeral if you can help it, children from preschool-aged into their teens should have at least some input on the decision of whether they will be attending, if possible.
  • Tell your child who will be there, what will happen, what the timeframe is, and why you are gathering together to honor the deceased. Be sure to find out and tell your child if there will be an open casket; while little ones might not be disturbed at the sight of the body, older kids may be. If there will be an open casket at the wake but not the actual funeral, and you think that your child will not be able to handle it, you could always include her only in the graveside service. Prepare your child for the possibility that there will be people crying, and also prepare her for the possibility that people won’t be crying: if the person has been sick for a long time, the family may feel relieved that the deceased is no longer suffering.
  • Allow your child to participate if he wants to. He could add something to the casket or light a candle. A young child might want to draw a picture, or an older child might want to write a letter. Teenaged children might be asked to act as pallbearers; allow your adolescent child to make this decision. Encourage him to do it as a way to honor the person who has died, but don’t insist or force him to.
  • Talk about your family’s beliefs when it comes to what happens after death. If you believe that there is an afterlife of some sort, talk to your child about it. On the other hand, if you don’t have this belief, then let your child know that once a person dies, he no longer feels any pain or suffers at all. Use your discretion, and don’t be afraid to ask for the advice of your pastor or other religious leader, if you have one.

If the person who has died was very young or died suddenly and unexpectedly, or if your child was very close to the deceased, watch for signs of depression or anxiety. Anxiety or depression can also occur even if the person who died was sick or very old. If you see any changes in your child’s appetite or sleeping habits, or if he seems very sad or worried for a prolonged period of time, talk to his pediatrician about whether he may need counseling in order to get through this difficult time.

Comments (33)

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  1. Maddie K. says:

    Great advice.

  2. Bill Elliott says:

    This is great advice, my wife’s grandmother just passed away and there will be several children attending the funeral,I will put your adivice to good use. Thank you very much.

  3. LAMusing says:

    Very good tips. I still remember the first funeral I went to — a classmate. I think I was 8 or 9. It was… confusing.

  4. Jo Ann Moffatt says:

    How sad it is to have to take your children to a funeral. I was lucky as a kid; I never had to attend one. However, my kids have not been so lucky. They had to attend the funeral of a classmate that was killed in an accident at the age of 9; my Mom’s (Grammy); and my best friend that was killed when her doctor nicked her bowel during a “routine” abdominal exploratory. I did all of the above that you stated and it worked out quite well considering.

  5. ANN*H says:

    Thanks for all these great tips on this subject. I always find it hard to decide when a child it actually ready to attend a funeral. When my dad died my son was about 7 and his school said he only needed to be out for the funeral , its best to get them back into their regular routine ASAP – I didnt agree totally with that just 1 day thing. He lived with his grandpa since he was born and I felt he needed more than just 1 day to deal with everything.

  6. Lisa R says:

    I’m not sure when it’s appropriate, I think it depends on the child…My son was very young when my mother ied and i never let him attend, He is 22 now and suffers from occasional panic attacks and i bet til this day i made the right choice, i don’t know what he’ll do when my ex husbands mother dies, She is the only one besises my ex that he talks to on my exes side of the family. i think he won’t be able to handle it….my first expereince is when my fathers uncle passed and i was told i didn’t have to go in the room. The funeral home was so small there was just a small entrance and we didn’t know after that was the room he was in, i saw him at a young age so i forgot if it scared me after…My onlt other suggestion is to call ahead and find out if there is a lobby to sit in and then if they want to go they could stay there and if they think they could handle it let them go in the room at their own pace

    sibabe64 at ptd dot net

  7. ray says:

    Great advice very imformative definitively gave me lots to think about

  8. Nena Sinclair says:

    This is great advice. I had to go through this with my kids when they were very young when my father passed away.

  9. Nicole Becker says:

    When my Mom passed away my daughter was six and I allowed her to got to the viewing. Needless to say, my family was not too happy about it!! Oh well!

  10. Eileen says:

    You are right. Each child is different. Some at 6 might be able to understand and handle it as a part of life…and some at 16 can’t.

    I remember my Grandpa’s funeral. I was only 6 so things were just matter of fact. I remember saying goodbye and (sorry if this might be weird to some) holding his hand just for a moment. Then at age 14 my grandma died. It was MUCH worse because I had an emotional component then that I did not have as a very young child. So, really, I believe it is something to discuss with each child and their personality AND what they can handle. I do think having a lot of photo’s around can help a child say goodbye without going to the actual funeral. It is OK to talk about being sad. Some familes just dont and some kids are not encouraged to show their feelings. some never see their father’s cry until he might lose a parent. That can be kind of traumatic to some kids…WATCHING others in pain and heartache.

  11. Deborah G says:

    Thanks for this. Very useful and comforting.

  12. Jo-Ann Brightman says:

    Very good tips. It is important to speak to the child and ascertain how he/she feel about the situation.

  13. denise smith says:

    thanks for the tips very helpful thanks

  14. Becky Davis says:

    Thank you for the tips. This would have been a great source when my kids were younger.

  15. Tammy S says:

    Thanks for the tips. Thank goodness my children haven’t had to face this situation.

  16. lisa says:

    I’ve never had to deal with that situation. You have great tips.

  17. Wendy T says:

    Honest, age appropriate and leave the rest up to the child’s questions.

    I had to explain this to my 11 year old daughter. Only I had to tell her it was her who was going to die.

    It still makes me shudder.

    *Olivia Grace*

  18. Rama says:

    Try not to force it is a great tip!!! I believe kids will talk about it when they are ready

  19. natalie nichols says:

    thank you for the tips. I have never really given this a lot of thought but I know I should.

  20. She says:

    This is good advice and you never know when a child is old enough. My first was with the preacher from our church who asked if I wanted to ride with him & his wife to the convalescent hospital. The kids from the church went once a month after Sunday services,to do some singing and he didn’t tell me we were stopping by for him to perform a ceremony we just did. What a shock, I did not know the woman and never seen a dead body. Still horrifies me to this day..if it had been family I was with it may have been easier to deal with but even tho he was the preacher he still should have told me…He’s gone but I still think it was wrong.

  21. pamela says:

    i just recently lost an aunt, as for funerals my family and i tend to judge how the children react to the subjet of death and how close they are to family memebers, usually as a rule of thumb the younger children do not go..

  22. Brooke B. says:

    Great advice. Not something you want to think about, but definitely something that needs to be considered, as it definitely has an impact.

  23. MD Kennedy says:

    Great pointers. My 98 year-old grandmother will be passing soon as her heart is giving out, and I will remeber these pointers for my younger nieces and nephews.

  24. Mitzi Fisher says:

    Awesome advise. I have a hard time with funerals. As a child I was always kept away from this 🙁

  25. Joan says:

    Hard topic to talk about, but this is a very beneficial piece for anyone dealing with that situation.

  26. Dorothy Boucher says:

    very sorry for your loss, i have always thought to allow my children to participate if they so chose to do so..i think just as much as we want to say our good byes they do also.. Thanks for sharing this with us.. @tisonlyme143

  27. Anita Leibert says:

    You have listed some very good things to consider. I still have vivid memories of a family member passing when I was very young. I’m not sure my mom handled it as well as she could have and I think for that reason, it has had me fearing funerals. Not a good subject for anyone, but a part of life just the same.

  28. Wendy says:

    Good tips

  29. sara m ford says:

    I really think we should talk with them about anything they might need to understand being open is always the best

  30. Misses Giveaways says:

    thank you for this advice. It is hard to understand from a child’s perspective.

  31. deb p says:

    I think each child deals with death differently, its hard to know what they are thinking.

  32. Good advice, at such a hard time.

  33. Danna Wolf says:

    This is something you hope your kids won’t ever have to deal with.

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