How to Help a Child Attend a Funeral

If a child wants to attend a funeral, it is important for them to have the support they need. Explaining what will happen beforehand can help them feel more comfortable with their decision, and can give them a roadmap for the service: how long it will last, where it will take place and who they might see there. It can also be helpful to give children a way to contribute. If they can write a note to their loved one, or decorate a memorial card, they can feel less like they are simply passively attending the service.

Especially if the service will be held in a religious setting, it is important to discuss the nature of the service with the child before they go so that they can prepare themselves for what they will see and hear. It may be difficult for them to understand that it is a service for someone who has died, but it is important that they are prepared to see people expressing a variety of feelings, including crying and laughing.

Explain that their sibling’s body will be in a casket, if they choose to view it, and that it is not a horror film, but rather a special place that they will always remember them by. If they choose to be cremated, explain that the ashes can be buried, scattered or kept at home. If they are buried, encourage them to add personal touches, such as adding a small plaque with their name or birthdate, or planting a tree in their memory at the cemetery.

Some families decide to bury their baby with something that was very special to them, such as a teddy bear, a favorite blanket or a photograph, or invite siblings to carry the coffin into the ceremony. This gives the child a feeling of being part of the funeral, and makes it more meaningful for them. If a child is to be cremated, it can also be very meaningful to have them be ‘brought up’ to the crematorium by being carried in on fire trucks, police cars, race car or other vehicle.

Depending on the age of the child, it is often helpful to have an adult there to comfort them and keep them engaged during the services. It can be especially hard on young children to sit still for long periods of time, and having a support person there to read them stories, or play games with them, can help keep them from being too overwhelmed.

It is helpful to remind the child that it is acceptable to be clingy and snuggly with their parent at a funeral, but that they should respect the wishes of other mourners who might not want to be touched. It is also good to remind them that it is okay to be quiet or play if that is how they wish to spend the service, and that it is normal to cry or laugh at different times.