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Featured FAQ: Should Children Attend Funerals?

September 10, 2015

A funeral is an important lifecycle event for the entire family, and children should be included to the extent to which they are able in order to help them through the grieving process. The decision to allow a child to attend a funeral depends on the age and temperament of the child as well as the traditions and values of the families involved.

Important things to consider

6758324_sWhether a child should attend a loved one’s funeral is a personal choice that includes the needs, values and spiritual beliefs of the family as well as the needs, age and disposition of the child. Take into consideration these important points to guide you in making the best choice for you and your family:

  • The age of the child: Young children will have varying degrees of understanding about death at different developmental stages. According to the Lucy Daniels Center,  a toddler or preschooler does not have a realistic understanding of death. A three-year-old may seem to understand he will never see grandma again one moment and then ask what she is sending him for his birthday the next moment. A kindergartener may have a better understanding of the finality of death but may still be confused about the meaning of death. The child might know that after grandma dies she cannot see, or hear or need to breathe, yet worry that grandma will be cold or lonely in the box that’s in the ground. Older children will have an even better grasp on the meaning and finality of death but still need support from the adults around them.
  • Preparation: Advanced preperation is important to help children manage the stress of new and confusing experiences, such as a death in the family. Allowing them the opportunity to ask questions and understand what to expect will help children be less anxious and have better control of their behavior. Preparing youngsters for a funeral should include an explanation of the various components of the day, such as whether or not there will be a viewing, what happens at the service and what to expect at the graveside. Children also need to know that the purpose of a funeral is to hold a special ceremony to remember and honor the loved one, support one another during a time of sadness, and celebrate the life and accomplishments of the person who has died.
  • Saying goodbye: Young children need the opportunity to say goodbye in a way that is meaningful and appropriate to them. It may include attending the funeral as well as other options such as writing a letter, putting flowers on the grave or releasing a balloon. Young children may not be able to sit through an entire wake or funeral service without being disruptive. Families with young children may choose to attend the funeral for a brief period or parents can designate a special person well known to the children to take them out of the service if it becomes overwhelming. It is important for children to be with a caring adult to provide support, guidance and discipline if needed.

According to The Dougy Center, the National Center for Grieving Children & Families, one of the most important things parents and caregivers can do for children is to give them choices. Your funeral director can help your family find ways to make sure children are not left out and work with the family to make appropriate arrangements, such as a separate visitation time for the children.

For further information, The Dougy Center offers a book for parents called What About The Kids: Understanding Their Needs in Funeral Planning and Services. To order a copy of the book, visit the center’s online bookstore or contact The Dougy Center at 503-775-5683.

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