Tips for taking your child to a funeral
Posted by AK Lander | On December 16, 2019 10:48
Taking your child to a funeral can be difficult, especially if it’s their first experience with death. In this guide, we reveal some tips to help you.
It’s a difficult time for everyone when a friend or family member passes away, but for children, who may have never had an experience with death before, it can be an extremely confusing time. As parents, it can be equally as confusing as to how to go about taking your child to a funeral, or if you should take them at all. Read on to discover our advice for taking your child to a funeral.
Should you take a child to a funeral?
There is no wrong answer as to whether you should take a child to a funeral. Although many parents will avoid taking babies or toddlers in case they disturb the service, it’s common for children of all ages to attend the funeral of a member of their family. One of the best ways you can decide if your child will attend is to leave the choice up to them after you explain the purpose of funerals and what they can expect.
Explaining the purpose of a funeral
Funerals can be a very alien subject for children who have never experienced a death of a relative or loved one before so make sure you take the time to sit down with them and explain their purpose and what usually happens in the service. Explain that although people usually cry and feel sad at funerals, it can also be a positive experience as it lets them share fond memories of their loved one and helps them say goodbye. Point out how funerals can bring comfort to many, as they can help people feel connected and supportive of one another during a difficult time.
We spoke to Sabina from the family lifestyle blog Mummy Matters, to find out her experience with taking children to funerals: “We had to take our children to their Grandad's funeral this year. My best advice would be to explain everything to them before the day so they have an opportunity to ask questions and understand what will happen. Their Grandad was having a Church Service and a Cremation, so we had to explain the two different parts to them.”
Get the children involved
Children are a lot more resilient than they seem, and although it’s tempting to protect them from sombre topics such as death and funerals, it can be beneficial for them to learn and get involved. Ways you can do this is by encouraging them to draw a picture for their loved one, make a condolence card with a note with their favourite memories or help pick out flowers to put on the grave.
Sabina from Mummy Matters continues: “To include them in the preparations we asked the children to help choose favourite photographs of Grandad to make a photo book to place at the back of the church and at the wake. We also asked them to give us words to describe Grandad and created a word cloud of his name which I ironed onto transfer paper and made into a padded board. Each letter of his name represented everyone's thoughts of Grandad, places he had travelled, words to describe his character, things he enjoyed doing etc. I think it helped the children to say goodbye to their Grandad in a gentle way.”
Let them know it’s ok to feel sad
Adults tend to keep their emotions hidden from children, so it may be strange for children to see them cry on the day of the funeral. Make them aware that this will happen, and it is completely ok and expected. This will be helpful for kids to learn that it’s healthy to feel and express sad emotions.
Have someone look after them
If you’re worried about the children acting up during the service, but don’t feel as though you will be capable of leaving at any point, then assign another family member or friend as a ‘buddy’ for the kid. This way you can say your goodbyes and grieve during the service without the responsibility of looking after the kids.
Consider an alternative way to say goodbye
If you decide your children aren’t ready to attend a funeral, or they have told you they would rather not attend, then consider providing an alternative way for them to say goodbye. This could be planting a tree together in honour of the person, scattering the ashes or visiting the grave after the funeral, all of which may make a less intimidating way for children to be introduced to death.
How to answer children’s questions about death
Understandably, children will have a lot of questions about death, before and after taking them to a funeral. Try your best to be as patient as possible, as it can be a confusing time for them. You may be met with questions such as ‘why do people die’ or ‘will I die’. We offer some suggestions for how to tackle these difficult questions below.
‘Why do people die?’
Explain that dying is a natural thing and often happens because of old age. However, make them aware that although most people live long and happy lives, sometimes bad accidents and illnesses can cause young people to die, but doctors try their hardest to stop this from happening.
‘Where do they go?’
You may wish to shape your answer according to your religion or you can simply explain that many people believe that what makes a person them - their personality, memories and soul - move on to a peaceful place and leaves their body behind. However, no one knows for certain what happens after death.
‘Was it my fault?’
Children can feel guilty for the times they misbehaved or did something wrong to the person who has passed away. Say it’s normal to feel guilty about how you may have upset your loved one, but that did not cause them to die. Explain that their loved one would have forgiven them long before the time of their death.
‘Will I die?’
Let them know that everyone will die one day, however, there are many exciting and happy years to be lived first, so it’s not worth thinking about such a sad occasion.
‘What happens to a person’s body after they die?’
It’s natural for them to wonder what happens to the body after death. Keep this answer as factual as possible, and it’s a good idea to answer based on whether their loved one is being buried or cremated. Explain that their body is laid to rest in a coffin, and then they will either be taken to a cemetery or crematorium.