There are many considerations when thinking about whether children should attend funerals. Some people worry their child may struggle to understand what’s going on, or that they will be disruptive during the ceremony. Although these are completely valid concerns, teaching your child about death and funerals can help prepare them for later in life.
If you are deciding whether to take your child to a funeral, read this guide – Should a child go to a funeral – to help with your decision.
Are children allowed to go to a funeral?
Firstly, there is no “rule” when it comes to children attending a funeral. Every family is different, and so is every funeral. Most of the time, children are permitted to attend, although some family members may have concerns. If you’ve been invited to a funeral and are unsure whether children are welcome, check with the bereaved family, funeral director, or person organising the service.
What age do children go to funerals?
Again, the “right” age will depend on the child. According to child psychologists, most children understand the concept of death by the time they’re about 10 years old. Younger children will be aware of death even if they don’t fully understand it.
- Under 2 – although children will notice the absence of a significant person in their life, i.e. a parent or primary caregiver, they do not understand the concept of death.
- 2 – 5 years – they have an awareness of things being ‘dead’ and ‘alive’, but they do not understand that death is permanent.
- Primary school – children begin to understand that the person who has died will not come back.
- Teenagers – teenagers have an adult understanding of the concept of death. They also may have their own beliefs on the subject.
What should I consider ahead of taking my children to a funeral?
Lots of people worry that their children are too young to go to a funeral and won’t understand what is happening. This may be the case, but every child is different so you need to decide whether you think your child will be comfortable. Ask yourself:
- Is it going to be an open or closed casket?
- If it is an open casket, will my child be able to cope?
- Will the funeral be too distressing?
- How long will the ceremony be?
- Will they understand what’s going on?
- Is my child anxious, or easily distracted?
- Do they want to go?
The last point is arguably the most important part of the decision. Making children part of the process allows them to feel involved. To help them decide, explain what to expect at the funeral, including good funeral etiquette and how they should behave, using language they will understand. Prepare to answer their questions.
Should children attend a grandparent’s funeral?
If your child was close to their grandparents then attending the funeral can be a chance to say goodbye and gain a sense of closure. This is especially true if the child understands the concept of death, and even more so if they watched the grandparent struggle with ill-health for a long time.
How to prepare your child for a funeral
To help your child decide whether they’d like to attend a funeral, start with explaining what they can expect. Lots of new information can feel overwhelming to children, so keep explanations simple.
To help prepare your child for a funeral, follow these suggestions:
- To help reassure them, explain to them what to expect – describe what will happen before, during and after the service in an age-appropriate way.
- Where possible, involve them – often children want to contribute something to the funeral of someone close to them. They could write a poem, draw a picture, recite a prayer or help choose the music.
- Ask a close friend to help out – if the funeral is for a close family member you will likely be grieving or heavily involved in the ceremony. Ask someone who knows the child well – perhaps a family friend – to support the child if they feel overwhelmed.
- Bring a book, quiet game or trusty toy – if they are getting restless it can be good to bring something to keep them occupied or distract them.
Shouldn’t I shield my children from death and funerals?
Learning how to cope with death is an important part of life. This doesn’t necessarily mean that in every case, children should attend funerals, but funerals are a meaningful ritual. Involving a child, even from a young age, can help them gain an understanding of death. As a parent, this may feel intimidating. But it can instil compassion in children, an essential life skill.
Another common worry is that parents will be overwhelmed and upset at the ceremony, and having their children there will only make this more difficult. To ensure your child is not left out, and to help them with the grieving process, and remembering the person who has died, consider giving them another opportunity to say goodbye. This could be:
- Visiting the crematorium or cemetery at a later date
- Creating a memory book
- Writing poems
- Drawing pictures
- Lighting a candle