Deciding whether or not to take a child to a funeral service is an extremely personal decision. It’s only natural to be concerned that your child will become bored, restless or even disrupt others during the service. However, depending on the age of the child, the experience could end up being a cathartic one for both adults and children.
There are plenty of ways in which a child can be involved during both the funeral preparations and the service itself. Even if you decide against bringing your child on the day, including them in any of these activities can still have a positive impact on their relationships with death and grief, and provide them with a healthy experience and outlook going forward.
Before you decide whether or not to take your child to a funeral service, it may be worth assessing the situation, and how they are coping with the loss of their loved one. It is all too easy to forget that children - even young children - also grieve, and will all grieve differently.
Of course, explaining such a delicate subject to a child can seem daunting, especially if you are in the midst of grief yourself. Turning to age-appropriate films or books can help to start a discussion, and provide an opportunity for your child to ask the questions they feel are important to them. A book like Tess's Tree by Jess Brallier may be more suitable for very young children, whereas slightly older children, might prefer animated films such as Big Hero 6 - may be more suitable.
If death is a topic you’ve already introduced to your child before the loss of a loved one, preparing them for the idea of a funeral service should be less of a shock to them. If this is not the case, however, then spending some time helping your child come to terms with the concept of death is an important first step.
While children may not be able to get involved with any intensive planning, allowing them to come up with their own ideas and taking their suggestions is important. Encouraging them to come up with music suggestions or discussing photo choices of their loved one for the funeral are just some of the meaningful decisions that your child can take part in.
Any items that might be made by hand, such as stationery, can also be a golden opportunity to involve children in the process. Giving them a chance to contribute something artistic or “fun” in the funeral planning process may help to ease any feelings of sadness they may be having, both taking their mind off things and leaving them with a more positive experience.
It’s very possible that some children may not want to attend the funeral itself. By making the effort to involve them at this stage, you’ll help them to feel as though they are a part of the day in some way, even if they are not physically present.
Taking your child to the funeral itself can sometimes be stressful for parents, especially if it’s the first one they’ve attended. When bringing very young children to a funeral, parents may be concerned that the child will get restless, bored or become disruptive.
In these scenarios, it’s important to ensure that they have something to do at all times, or are at least supervised. Asking a friend or family member to take charge of babysitting for the duration of the funeral and bringing distractions such as balloons or bubbles can help to distract children that may get a little restless.
For older children, giving them meaningful tasks and a part in the service itself will truly make them feel a part of the event. Gestures such as lighting candles, placing flowers atop the coffin and even releasing doves are all positive ways in which children of various ages can contribute.
While parents can use their own judgement to decide whether or not to include their children in the funeral itself, children can be more resilient than we realise. Their presence may not only help them process their own grief, but could even provide a ray of hope for others attending, emphasising the importance of life rather than the sadness of death.
Even if you choose not to bring your child along to the funeral itself, there are still ways in which you can make them feel included. Whether it’s in the lead up to the funeral or at the service itself, the important thing is to ensure that your child is supported and prepared for the occasion, so that they can have the most positive experience possible.
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