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Should children attend funerals?

Did you attend a funeral as a child? Would you let your child attend a funeral? Today's blog explores whether it is appropriate for children to be allowed to attend a funeral.

The subject of children attending funerals is always a difficult one, with no right or wrong answers. For some children, it can be helpful for them to accept the reality of death and help them to be less scared. It can also help prepare them for death later in life, as we may not attend a funeral until adult hood. Death is a natural part of life and therefore it is important that children understand this.

According to Winston's Wish, a charity who helps grieving children, the people they have supported have valued the chance to choose whether they attend or not. However in order to be empowered to make that choice, children need to understand what is involved.

Children grieve differently to adults and their emotions are likely to change quite dramatically quite quickly. From being happy one minute to incredibly sad the next. There are many children that will understand and share in the sorrow that is felt, as they may also be feeling the same way. It can also help for children to see the outpouring of love for the person that has died.

How do I explain what a funeral is to a child?

Children who are fully informed about what happens at a funeral are more easily able to decide if they will attend. It is always best to be open and honest when discussing what is involved with a funeral. Children may not always remember the funeral details, however they will remember being involved and included and if it was a positive experience.

Children do take things literally, as their brains are yet developed to understand the quirks of the English language or the funeral process. For example, saying 'we have lost our Dad' could be confusing so we should stick to direct wording of 'our dad has died'. Children will also be scared of being buried or cremated, so we need to explain that the body of the person that has died as stopped working and no longer feels pain. If children understand the purpose of a funeral is for people to say goodbye to someone who has died, they will cope with the situation much better.

Should I let my child visit the person who has died in the Chapel of Rest?

There are many different cultures and beliefs in relation to visiting the person that has died. If you are unsure whether to let your child visit their relative in the Chapel of Rest, it is worth considering the following may help the child to:

  • say goodbye;
  • accept the reality of death;
  • be less scared of death;
  • feel involved in what is happening;
  • share an important last memory of the person who has died.

There are lots of children who haven't seen adults cry. It's important to address this beforehand, so that they know what to expect. In particular, children should understand that it is ok to cry and that it can be cathartic.

How do we involve children in a funeral if they cannot attend?

Sometimes it won't always be possible or appropriate for a child to attend a funeral. There are ways for them to be involved which may include helping in the planning part, choosing a song to be played or a poem to be read out. They may also want to add items to the coffin such as toys, teddies or letters and cards.

Other options could include attending the funeral venue at a later date to pay their respects, lighting a candle in their memory or compiling a book of memories together.

Is there an age limit for children attending a funeral?

There is no age limit to children attending a funeral however some people avoid taking young children due to concerns of noise and disruption. If your child is old enough to decide themselves, they should always be given the option and their decision respected.

  • Under 2 – they have no understanding of the concept of death, but will notice the absence of a significant person in their life such as a parent or primary caregiver.
  • 2-5 years – they have an awareness of things being ‘dead’ and ‘alive’, but do not understand the permanence of death.
  • Primary school – they begin to understand the finality of death and that the person who has died will not come back.
  • Teenagers – they have an adult understanding of the concept of death but may also have their own beliefs and views on the subject.