A child funeral is a way for parents and relatives to pay their respects and say goodbye to a baby or young child who has died. It is a very emotional time, but there are ways to make it less difficult for children.
If possible, start talking to your children about death in a age appropriate way as soon as the loss occurs. This can help them understand what is happening and will prepare them for the visitation period and funeral. It is important to talk about what will happen at these events and that people may be crying. Explain that everyone grieves differently and that it is ok to cry or laugh.
Children often have misconceptions about what happens at a funeral and may be worried that they might die or that someone else will too. It is important to reassure them that this is not the case and to tell them that there are many things that can cause a person to get sick and to die, including accidents. It is also helpful to discuss your family’s religion and what your beliefs are about life and death.
Some families choose to have a memorial service instead of or in addition to a funeral. This can be done in a more private setting and can allow the family to incorporate elements of their faith that are meaningful to them. This can be an especially good option for older children who may feel pressured to attend a funeral service.
On the day of the funeral it is important to give your children choices and let them know that they are allowed to change their mind. If they decide to attend, it is a good idea to give them some one-on-one attention so that they don’t feel isolated or forgotten amongst all of the activities and preparations for the service.
If you are able, try to give your children some role in the service, whether it be reading a favorite poem or sharing a memory of your baby or sibling. Shyer children will also feel more included if they are given the opportunity to light a candle or place something special in the casket, such as a teddy bear or photo.
Some children, particularly younger children, may show regressive behavior in the lead up to the funeral. It is important to reassure them that the visitation period and the funeral are not about bad behavior but about saying goodbye to your baby or sibling. If you find that your child is exhibiting regressive behavior, it is a good idea to seek professional help.
When Helen Mackinnon, a funeral director, asks people who have attended her training courses if they remember wanting to go to a funeral but being forbidden to, most hands shoot up. She says: “It is a very common experience and it’s important that if your child wants to attend the funeral, they are encouraged but not forced.” It is also important that children who do not want to attend are supported whatever their decision.