There are two types of inquiries that might have landed you on this page. The first is if you’re a parent wondering whether to take your child to the funeral of a deceased friend or distant family member who was not well known to the child. The second is if you’re a surviving parent whose child has suffered the loss of a caregiver or other important person. We’ll address each of these topics separately.
When the deceased is not well known – Should children attend the funeral?
Death is a fact of life, and you do not have to fear harming your children by their attendance at a funeral. Even if they are upset by it, this gives you a valuable opportunity to work through these feelings during a circumstance where the hurt isn’t personal. So if the child was not that close to the deceased or had little to no relationship at all, the question is more one of logistics than philosophy.
1. Will they be a nuisance? Funerals are boring procedures where children are expected to keep quiet and sit still for hours at a time. If this will be a challenge for your child, show respect to the attendees by arranging for a sitter.
2. Will it be of benefit? If your child is older and capable of conducting themselves in a respectful manner, then attending a funeral can be a potentially valuable learning experience that can present the opportunity to practice processing death. Ask your child how they feel about attending, and consider doing something special afterwards so that it’s not all doom and gloom.
3. A child’s age: Children under the age of 6 are less adept at processing death, so they’re less likely to benefit from the experience.
Should children attend the funeral of a loved one?
It’s our position that if a child is old enough to express their desires, they should be given the right to choose for themselves whether or not they want to attend the funeral of a loved one. However, there are several considerations that you (and they) should be aware about:
1. The child’s age: The age threshold drops much lower when it comes to the death of a loved one, but toddlers under the age of 3 still may not get any benefit from attending.
2. If you don’t go, you may later wish you did: There is but one opportunity to attend a funeral, and children who are kept from it may go on to regret this absence for the rest of their lives. In general, it’s more common for people to regret not attending a funeral than it is for them to regret attending it.
3. The funeral can be a step in the process of closure: It will be the last time a child has to be close to the deceased in a physical sense, and the funeral can be an important part in the grieving process. It gives children a sense of finality and realism to the death that is a necessary part of coping. Children who do not attend may have a more difficult time processing the loss.
4. It may be upsetting: Seeing a parent lifeless in a casket or being put in the ground can be an upsetting image. One woman comments that “years ago I had seen my father-in-law in his casket. For a very long time I couldn’t dispel the image of him lying there, drained of life.” (Pepperberg, 2009) So attending the funeral might be upsetting, though these upsetting images can usually be overcome later.
5. It may be comforting: On the flip side, the same process that upsets certain kids can benefit others. If it’s an open casket funeral, it can let a child give mommy a final kiss or touch her hand one last time. In the same way that some children will cry and be distraught for hours because they forgot to give Dad one last kiss before he left on a trip, giving kids this final opportunity to be physically close with the deceased and tell them any important things they may need to can provide lasting comfort for kids to draw from. They can tell them in person anything they wish they’d said and otherwise get in those last condolences.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what’s in the best interest of the child as they struggle through the grieving process. But if a child wants to attend, we would strongly recommend you allow them to do so, even if it does upset them in the short term. You should clearly explain what will happen and what it will be like ahead of time, and then let them make the choice. Also prepare for the possibility that a child who repeatedly says they do not want to go may change their mind at the last minute, and you should have a way to allow for this change of heart.
Funeral printable for kids
Our printable coloring book The Funeral Workbook will help familiarize kids with the funeral process ahead of time, so that they know what to expect. It also gives you an opportunity to answer any questions they might have.