“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”
Epictetus, Greek Philosopher

For thousands and thousands of years, funerals and other rituals have supported individuals to express their beliefs, attitudes, and feelings about someone who has died. Funerals serve to confirm the reality of the death, provides opportunities for social support with friends and family members, helps to remember the loved one’s life and to say goodbye. For some, funerals can be accepted as a reality of life events very much like occasions such as weddings, graduations, etc. Clearly…the difference is that it is a sad occasion and can cause one to reflect on past losses and perhaps think about one’s own mortality. In addition, funerals can be traumatic and can make it difficult for many to cope with the death of their loved one. The same way in which death affects adults, there are parallel reactions that children also have. The participation of children in funerals is often disregarded and as much as talking to children about death. Some adults feel that children are too young to participate or even feel that they would be traumatized from the experience. In addition, adults may not know what to say or become overprotective of children when someone they love dies.

Children participation in funeral

Children grieve too! Without explanations or participation, they are left to deal with their own grief in isolation and become confused about the meaning of death and rituals. For a moment think about your own participation in funerals, everyone felt some emotion of some kind, everyone had something in common, everyone could embrace one another to offer support, and to share those memories with others. When a child also participates in this way they can also grieve and experience the same support from everyone around them. Children attending funerals is a choice not a requirement. Children need age-appropriate preparation! When children participate in funeral rituals they are given the opportunity to begin their healing process very much like that of adults. Yet because this is a unfamiliar and sad experience children need preparation about what they will see, hear, feel, smell, etc. They need to know that someone has died and what happens when someone has died. Without question, this could be one of the most difficult conversation any adult could have with a child. Explaining this reality to children can be challenging. Perhaps considering those “teachable moments” to begin a conversation about death rather than wait when death actually occurs. Some example, would be if someone dies in a movie or storybook, or a funeral procession passes by, visit a cemetery, or talk openly of someone that has died.

Tips to consider in preparing children for a funeral?

  • Keep it simple, use age-appropriate language, be honest, and avoid euphemisms
  • Determine what the child may already know, perhaps observing adults reactions, or overhearing conversations about someone who has died
  • Gather information about the funeral (i.e. where, open casket, cremation, graveside)
  • Explain what takes place at a memorial service and or graveside
  • Acknowledge your own feelings this allows the child to also grieve
  • Explain reactions of grieving adults (i.e. sadness, crying) Children can become very upset seeing adults cry
  • Find ways for child to participate (i.e. draw a picture or write a letter to place inside the coffin, read a poem/letter at memorial service, etc.)
  • Someone else could accompany the child to service. To provide support and answer endless questions
  • Young children become easily distracted and may have difficult sitting for long periods in memorial services. Prepare a small bag with simple distraction activities for young child to take along
  • See Explaining Death To Children