Whether to take a child to a funeral or memorial service depends on many factors, including the age and emotional maturity of the child, as well as the closeness of the relationship with the deceased. While it may be very difficult to make these decisions, parents should try to be guided by their own cultural traditions and the wishes of their child.
If children choose to attend, a good way to help them is to explain what the funeral will be like before they go. They will want to know what they can expect, so be as specific as possible – for example, telling them how long the service will last, where it will happen, and who they might see there. It is also helpful to visit the funeral home ahead of time and show them the casket, if you think it would help.
Young children often ask difficult questions about death and the afterlife, and it is important to answer them truthfully. For example, they might wonder where their loved one is now and what will happen to their body after the funeral. It is also a good idea to share with them your own religious beliefs about life and death, as this will help reassure them.
Some children will be able to participate in the service by writing messages, signing a board, or making a card. Other children may want to place a flower or light a candle in memory of their loved one. It is a good idea to bring some activities to keep them busy and occupied during the service, such as coloring books, toys, or stickers.
It is also a good idea to have someone, such as a trusted friend or relative, on hand to help with them during the funeral or memorial service. This person can keep an eye on the children, take them outside or into a hallway for a break if they become overwhelmed, and give them a chance to express their emotions freely.
Throughout the funeral and memorial services, be sure to protect your children from fawning sentimentality. Aunt Bertha’s sobbing and hugs can be confusing and distressing for children, especially very young ones. It’s also important to set boundaries around personal space and to encourage respectful greetings between family members and guests.