A child funeral is a special service held to celebrate the life of an infant or young child. It may be a full ceremony similar to one for an adult, or a simple gathering at the graveside, and it can include whatever the family wishes to do to honour their child, including a memorial.
If your child is old enough to understand what’s happening, you might ask them if they want to take part in the service, whether it’s reading a poem, singing a song or giving a speech. They might also choose to draw a picture or write a letter, or leave something special like a teddy bear or photo in the casket. If they do decide to participate, it’s important that you help them prepare for what’s coming.
It’s also a good idea to create an order of service booklet so that children know what’s going to happen and what they need to wear (for example, dark clothing). This can be printed at home or by a professional. It’s a good idea to have a copy of this to give to any children attending, so that they can refer back to it and feel confident that they’re following what the family has decided.
If they’re old enough to understand, you might also ask them if they would like to help wash or dress the body and help carry it into the funeral room. This can be a very moving experience and can be a great way to help them understand that the body is not ‘sick’ or ‘bad’.
You can also invite the children to touch their sibling’s casket or urn, if they wish, but make it clear that this is completely optional and not required. Explain that the body may have marks on it or may look a little different and that this is normal. It’s also a good idea to have someone available who can answer any questions that the child might have during the service, perhaps a family member or grief counselor.
Some children will say that they don’t want to go to the funeral, and it’s completely normal for them to feel this way. It’s best to discuss why they feel this way and try to address their fears, but don’t force them to attend if they really don’t want to. They might just need a little more time to process, and forcing them could be very traumatizing for them.
You might consider bringing a friend or relative with you to the service as their “funeral buddy.” This is someone who can support them during the services and who won’t mind taking them out of the room if they need to. This person can be there to play with them and distract them from any feelings of discomfort, or to explain the different parts of the service if they’re unsure what’s happening. This is also a good idea if you’re concerned that the child will be frightened by the sight of their deceased sibling.