When someone we love passes away, we often struggle to make sense of it – and this is especially true for children. They may have never been to a funeral before, or they may be very young and still developing their understanding of the world. It is natural to want to protect them, but the best thing you can do is give them a choice and allow them to be involved in what happens during the service.
Prepare the child for what is to come by talking with them in a normal way and explaining what will happen at the funeral. This can be difficult for adults to do, but it can also be a very important way of helping the child to cope with this.
Talk about the funeral in language they understand and remind them that it is OK to ask questions. They will feel a lot more comfortable with this and be less likely to feel overwhelmed if they know they can ask for help if they need it.
Explain what will happen at the funeral, what they can expect and why it is happening. This might include details such as where the service will be held, how long it will take and who will be there. They will also need to know that burial or cremation doesn’t hurt the person who has died, as they are no longer able to feel pain.
Get them involved where possible – this could be writing a poem or drawing a picture, reading a prayer or choosing the music for the funeral. This can help them to process their grief and to connect with their loved one.
Have a trusted adult sit with the child at the funeral – this can be anyone who knows the child, like a teacher, a close friend or a babysitter. This will let the child know that they are safe and that they are in good hands.
Encourage them to leave the service early if they need a break – if they are getting a bit restless or fidgety it can be helpful to get them outside for a while, if they feel safe. It can also be useful to bring a favourite toy or quiet game, or even a book for them to read in the lobby.
Visit the cemetery or crematorium beforehand – this will help them to know what to expect and they can see where the funeral is taking place. It is also a chance for them to say goodbye and mark the occasion of their loved one’s death.
If they want to go to the graveside, encourage them to leave flowers or mementos on their loved one’s grave. This can be very emotional for them and can help them to deal with their grief more easily.
Plan an alternative ceremony if they do not wish to attend the funeral – it is OK for them to choose another way to remember their loved one and say goodbye, such as planting a tree or placing a garden ornament in their memory.