Healthy Grieving Starts at a Young Age
With life comes death; they’re undeniably tied up together whether we like it or not. To a child, death can be a scary concept, especially if they don’t fully understand what it means or even looks like.
Many parents try to shield their children from death by not taking them to funerals or grieving in front of them. While every parent has the right to decide whether or not it’s appropriate to bring their children to a funeral, there are a number of things to think about.
Before leaving the kids at home next time a family member or friend dies, consider these ways that children may benefit from attending a funeral.
Dealing with and Understanding Death
Death is not an easy concept to wrap our heads around at any age, but children often have the hardest time with it. When someone you know dies, they may have lots of questions about why and how, and will it happen to them too.
It’s important to address any questions they have and answer as truthfully as you can. Chris Earl, a funeral director in the UK, created an extremely helpful guide for parents whose children may be asking about death.
The best way to help a child deal with and understand death is to make them see that it’s a natural part of life. Plants, animals and people all die at some point so it’s important to enjoy life and not dwell on its ending.
Let your child know that it’s okay to feel sad, angry, or any other unpleasant emotion that may arise as they try and accept that the person who died isn’t coming back. The ceremony of a funeral allows for the acceptance of death and also offers a means to say goodbye.
If you have any religious beliefs, your kids may find comfort in the discussion of an afterlife or of the deceased loved one “going to a better place.”
Age Appropriate Inclusion
Age is an important factor in deciding to bring children to funerals. Very young children may have a harder time understanding what’s going on or why someone they love has suddenly gone away.
Needless to say, since children are naturally more sensitive than adults, they may still ‘get’ the concept of the experience and feel sad even if they’re not sure why. It can become confusing for little ones so it may be prudent to monitor their behavior during the process or only bring them to a part of the service.
Older children will have some concept of death during the elementary school years, but may not know what to do at a funeral. Assure them they don’t really have to do anything except show up and pay their respects if they’d like to.
If the deceased was a parent or sibling, however, they could take a more active role in planning the ceremony. Picking out a song they know their loved one enjoyed, choosing flowers, or even making a memory board are all nice ways to include them in the ceremony.
Remembering a Loved One
Perhaps the most beneficial part of bringing kids to a funeral is their ability to participate in the remembrance of a loved one. This is especially important if the child was close to the person who died so they can express their sadness and start the grieving process.
Sharing happy memories with other people who knew your loved one will show your children that funerals are not just about being sad that a person died, but celebrating their life and all the people they touched. Since everyone there knew and cared about the person, they will all understand how your child may be feeling and offer kind words or a hug to make them feel better.
Talking about the deceased may bring up a lot of feelings for your child, but that is how they will live on, through their memories. It may help them to write a letter, draw a picture of a memory, or bring a photograph along to the funeral, which they can then ‘give’ the loved one in their casket or put on a memory board with other mementos.
Catering to a Child’s Comfort Level
While the decision to bring your child to a funeral is ultimately yours, it’s a good idea to at least give them a say in the matter as well. Although you may want to protect them, your children will let you know if they’re not okay with the idea of going to a funeral, provided you explain it to them first.
Let them know what to expect, especially if it’s an open casket funeral and they want to see or say goodbye to the family member or friend.
Give them an idea of what they might feel or think when they see the body, based on your own experience, in order to prepare them mentally. You know your children best so even if they say they want to go to the funeral, if it seems like they might get scared or act out, you have the right to overrule them.
You can also give them the option of leaving the room with another family member if they feel uncomfortable, restless, or scared, especially if they’re unsure about the whole experience. Make them feel as comfortable as possible and the experience will be one they look back upon and treasure rather than regret.
The Guardian (Should Young Children Go to Funerals)
Psychology Today (Taking Children to the Funeral)