Should children go to funerals?

May 23, 2022 

Many people worry about whether to take their children to a funeral as they think that they may not understand what’s happening. Most children have a full understanding of death by the time they are about eight to ten, and many younger children will have enough of an understanding to go to a funeral if they wish. 

It’s difficult to know what the right thing to do is. You don’t want to upset them or cause them any distress, but also want them to be part of the service and have a chance to say goodbye. 

There’s no right or wrong decision, but generally children who are old enough to know what’s happening should have the choice of whether to attend or not. And, their decision either way, should be respected. 

When you are talking to a child about a death in the family, and the funeral there’s some things to consider: 

1. Children need simple and honest conversations when someone has passed. Don’t over explain what’s happened, take your time, be patient so that they understand as much as possible what has happened. 

2.Ensure that they have some understanding of the concept of death. Explain that the person is no longer with us, that they aren’t in pain and they loved them very much.

3.It’s important to share more about the purpose of the funeral. It’s a special ceremony where everyone thinks about how much they cared for the person who has passed and it’s a way to say goodbye. 

4.Tell them what it will be like at the funeral – there’ll be music, readings and people are there to think about the person’s life. Be honest that some people may be crying while others will be choosing that time to share stories and memories. 

5.It may be worth having an adult the child knows and trusts to take them out of the service if they get restless or want to leave.

It’s different for every family and child. The most important thing to remember is that you need to do what feels right for you and your child. 

Explaining death to your child

The news of a death should be broken by the person closest to the child using simple, easy to understand words. 

You should be clear and avoid euphemisms like ‘gone to sleep’. This is unhelpful and can be taken literally by the child, leading them to worry about going to sleep. Where you can, give context to what’s happening – if they have an illness explain a bit more about it. 

Every child will react differently to death. Reassure them that whatever they are feeling is okay and natural, and be mindful that it may take them a little longer to process the news.

How do you explain the funeral to them?

You need to explain the funeral to them in a way they can understand. Children take in as much information as they can cope with, so keep your explanations short to start with. They may come back with more questions later. 

Children are naturally curious about the world, and want to understand how things work and what will happen. It’s one of the reasons they ask us lots of questions, it helps them learn, work out how and why things happen and lets them have the information to make their own choices. 

Before you start explaining the funeral to them, it’s good to ask them what they know. This will make you aware of any misconceptions they may have, and the kind of language they use. 

You may want to start by explaining to them again about death – what it means when someone passes, and how they won’t see them anymore. Remember to make it clear that the burial or cremation doesn’t hurt the person who has died, as they can’t feel pain anymore. 

When you’re explaining death and the funeral to a child, go slow. It’s a hard conversation to have for both of you. Take your time, be clear and if you or the child needs a break from the talk that’s more than okay. 

What if they don’t want to go?

Children shouldn’t be forced to go to the funeral if, after you’ve explained what’s happened, they choose not to. 

Remind them that there are other ways to say goodbye to someone. You can think of other things to do after the funeral to mark the occasion, like visiting the crematorium or cemetery together, going for a walk to their favourite place or something as simple as looking back at special photographs.

Supporting your child through a loss

We all find it hard to cope when someone we love dies. Helping a child through the loss of a person they care about can be particularly difficult when you are dealing with your own grief. 

There’s no rulebook for how a child will grieve or how best you can support them. Sometimes they may get upset, sometimes angry and other times it may seem like they have forgotten all about it. But they won’t have. They’ll still want and need to talk, share memories and explore their feelings. 

What is key is to reassure them that it’s not their fault and it’s okay to express their emotions in a way that feels right. Here’s a few things you can do to support your child through a loss:

1.Show them it’s okay to be upset. Children model their behaviour on those around them. Don’t hide your own grief from them. The more you can talk about it with them, the more they will feel able to talk about it. 

2.Let them know that they can talk to a friend or relative if they’d prefer.

3.Create stability. Children need to know who will care for them, as it gives them a sense of security knowing lots of things will stay the same. It may help to continue some of their existing routines, such as sports clubs, or trips to a friend’s house. 

4.Let them know it’s okay to have fun. Playing is therapeutic and gives them (and you) a break from grieving and a chance to express their feelings in their own way. 

5.Be ready for the grief to re-surface. It’s not unusual for children, and adults to re-visit grief at key stages in their life. Be there for them to talk to.

6.Create traditions and ways of remembering. Think about doing something special on key days, create happy memories and a safe space to talk.

7.Let children take the time they need to grieve.

If you feel like you’d like some specialist bereavement support, it’s a good idea to reach out to your GP. There are also some really great books out there that can help children cope with grief:

The Invisible String by Patrice Karst 

Grandad’s Island by Beji Davies 

Sad Book by Michael Rosen 

Marvin the Maple Tree by Rev Richard Littledale 

More information and support on supporting a child with grief: 

Child Bereavement UK 

UK Trauma Council 

Winston’s Wish

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