Deciding whether taking a child to a funeral is appropriate or not depends on many issues. Obviously, you have to take into consideration the maturity level of your child, the intensity of their understanding of death and of course, their relationship to the deceased. For many parents grieving the loss of a close relative, the decision is a no-brainer. Of course, you want them there. However, when the person that died is not someone your child is close with you may want to consider how the grieving family feels before bombarding the chapel with a squeaky three year old.
Your first consideration should be your child. It may be that the subject of death or grieving has never been raised before in your family. However, chances are you can think back on a pet, animal, or insect that died and talk to your child about what it means. You may be surprised how well they understand the permanence of death and ashamed that they dont feel as prone to bellowing as you may feel. Children internalize death differently than adults. For young children, they rarely see past today let alone into tomorrow, and death is nothing more than a temporary roadblock. They may even have a nonchalant attitude, stating that Aunt Mary is up in Heaven. End of story.
Yet there are other children who are fearful of death. They may be at an age where they believe in monsters and ghosts, relying on media exposure to sway their feelings about dying. For these children, attending a funeral should not be pushed. Especially if the person is not someone they were rather close to. Exposing them to a funeral home, a viewing and mourning people can be overwhelming to a child. It can also cause unsettling feelings that make them feel unsafe in their own lives. They may begin to question their own parents or family members dying, and some worry for the first time about dying themselves. In fact, the subject of death causes universal fear in children and adults. If you are hesitant, fearful, or anxious about death, chances are your child will be as well.
It’s also a good idea to ask your child if they want to go the funeral. If they have never been, you should preempt them a bit so they know what to expect. Be as specific as possible when discussing the funeral procession and gauge their reactions. It is normal for children to be interested because they are curious. It is also normal for some kids to show no interest at all. Once you detail what the experience will be like, you should explain what it means to attend a funeral, explaining that many people there will be very sad. Talk about commemorating someone’s life, the burial and any other specifics that may be involved. If your child doesn’t want to go, then don’t push the issue. On the flip side if they seem interested and want to be there don’t hold them back. After all, death is part of life and one that they will have to deal with in time regardless of how sheltered you keep them.
Taking a child to a funeral does not mean that they have to attend the graveside burial or church ceremony. If your children are young, you may find that you are embarrassed by their inability to be quiet or rustling around. Some people find children at a funeral rude, while others welcome the giddiness of children during such a sad event. Rather than have them attend all facets of the service, choose one that is best. Often, the services held at the funeral home offer the best environment for children. However, having them view an open casket is not advisable until your child is older and able to talk with you about you feelings. Even then, if they don’t want to go in don’t make them! There are plenty of adults that avoid viewings for just this reason.
You should also consider whether or not your child will ‘get’ anything from the funeral. Is the deceased a very close family member that they loved dearly? Do they need some sort of closure and will the service help them to cope with the loss at all? Often for a child that doesn’t attend the funeral; the death can be sort of open ended. They won’t understand what happened to their loved one or particularly have a sense of coming to terms with death. Some parents decide too early that their child MUST go to the funeral without any real reason why except for to help the parents cope with the death. While it may feel comforting to have your family around you, you shouldn’t use your children to comfort you during a time of death.
The last consideration is the wishes of the funeral home and the next of kin. Some funerals are completely kid friendly, while others are not. If the service is a lengthy or formal one, than taking your child to the funeral is probably not a good idea. You can call the funeral home ahead of time, or speak to someone in charge of planning to see what they prefer ahead of time. Some funerals even arrange for nurseries or sitting services during the church service.
Every child is different. You will find that your child will take on a feeling about death depending on the environment around them. Some children will sit quietly through a funeral without any sort of residual effect while others will wiggle and whine, feeling confused afterwards. Utilizing your child’s personality, age and the gut feeling you have about whether your child is ready or not, will normally produce the best decision. Eventually, your child will learn about dying and death. It is up to you to decide when the right time is. If you prepare them lovingly and leave plenty of space for communication afterwards, chances are your child will be fine.