Grieving Children

Is My Child Ready to Attend a Funeral?

July 12th, 2012

“Could my child handle a funeral service?”

As a parent, the emotional health of your child is always at the forefront of your mind.  When a family member or friend passes, it is natural for you to be concerned about their involvement in the funeral services.  You may be feeling grief, anger or even guilt and fear that your child will experience the same difficult emotions.  In the past, it was considered unwise to allow a young child to attend a funeral, primarily based on the high emotions and fear of death it may create. Today though, most funeral homes, psychologists and parents see the funeral as a chance to provide closure for a child who has lost someone they care deeply about and to shed light on the mysterious, and often frightening, concept of death. FSN Funeral Homes has taken the time to list a few considerations you should make when choosing whether or not to allow your child to attend a funeral.

Is my child old enough?

Age is possibly the greatest concern for most who oppose children attending funerals.  Rabbi Earl Grollman, a bereavement specialist and chairman of the National Center of Death Education at Mount Ida College, suggests that, “If a child is old enough to go to church services, that’s old enough to go to a funeral.”

On the other hand, Hospice of the Valley finds that, “When deciding whether your child should attend a funeral or memorial service, age is not the most important consideration. Your child is part of the family, and children who are old enough to love are old enough to grieve.”  From their perspective a healthy grieving process should be supported in all ages.

The primary concern you should truly have is the maturity level of your child.  Can he or she remain quiet?  Is your toddler too restless to sit through a service?  Will your child remain respectful of others? Decide whether or not your child will disturb others during their mourning.  Remember, kids are kids and you cannot expect them to listen intently to every speaker and song.  If the child can be occupied by a  quiet activity, this would be an appropriate distraction.

Attending a Funeral Allows Your Child to Say “Goodbye”

How close was my child to the deceased?

If you feel that your child has a meaningful bond with the deceased, that their loss will  affect them personally, then there is good reason to allow your child to attend the funeral.  Just like adults, children need closure.

The funeral serves the same purpose for children as it does for adults.  The shared mourning and celebration of life are crucial to a healthy acceptance of their loved one’s passing.  Phyllis R. Silverman, a psychologist who has conducted research concerning children who attended a parent’s funeral, stated that she found among those children she interviewed a generally positive perspective.  “They were pleased that there were many people at the funeral who cared for their parent. They talked about the importance of remembering, celebrating their parent’s memory and mourning together. The funeral helped them do that.”

Many parents and psychologists have also found that children appreciate being included in the funeral plans of someone dear to them.  Choosing the casket or deceased’s dress is often offered as good ways to involve them in the decision-making process.  You could also suggest they write a letter or draw a picture to be placed in the casket.

Does my child want to attend the funeral?

While it may seem strange to allow your child to make this decision, giving your child the power of choice will provide them with confidence and control in a time when they are feeling powerless.

If your child is uncertain whether or not they wish to go, there are several reasons they may be hesitant.  They could have unanswered questions or unfounded fears.  For example, Barbara F. Meltz, a child care journalist, explains that referring to the deceased’s “body” may unwittingly create a fear of a headless loved one.  They may not understand the gravity of the situation and find personal, selfish things more appealing – like thinking, “Why would I spend my Saturday with old people?  I want to play ball!”

Do not make the child feel guilty for not wanting to attend, simply ask them why they don’t want to.  Address any concerns they mention honestly and sincerely.  Additionally, many psychologists recommend encouraging the child to attend.  Emphasize the family aspect of the service and the reasons funerals are held – showing respect, celebrating life, and grieving with family.

If your child does choose to attend the funeral, encourage him or her to ask questions and assure them that you want to know how they are feeling.  Conveying openness and a willingness to work with your child will give them the support they need to address their grief. Make sure to thoroughly explain what will happen during the funeral so they fully understand what will take place, eleminating any fear of the unexpected.

The Key to Protecting Your Child

Let your child feel included in the funeral

As an adult, you understand what has happened to a deceased loved one without attending a funeral, but a child has no concept of such things as a casket, grave, or burial if you do not educate them. Imagine never knowing what has happened to a loved one; this is how your child could feel if they are not familiar with the concept of death and funerals.   The best method to ensure your child will be ready for a funeral is to prepare them yourself.  Do not avoid answering questions, but reward curiosity with enthusiasm.  This preparation should address the following aspects:

  • The Funeral Service – Hospice of the Valley suggests you make sure the 5 W’s and H are answered for the child when addressing the funeral service (Who, What, When, Where,  Why and How).
  • The Concept of Death –   Death’s permanence, the separation from a loved one, and the physical body may be difficult concepts for your child to understand.  Be straightforward and avoid euphemisms which may be confusing to your child.
  • The Emotional Aspect –  Describe how some people may be acting at the funeral – crying, quiet, etc. – and open up to your child about how you feel.  Most importantly, make sure your child is comfortable with his or her own feelings.  Let them know that reacting emotionally is natural, but also that he or she will not be expected to act like everyone else.  Everyone mourns differently. Encouraging your child to write, draw, or talk out any feelings they are having is a good way to gauge how they are reacting to the experience.

If you find discussing any of these issues difficult, there is no need to worry. There are plenty of resources out there to help you educate your child on all aspects of death – from the funeral to grief.  Also, when you find the funeral home which will be holding the service, contact the director.  Sometimes they will have special services just for children or at least will be prepared to answer any questions your child may have.

“I hear people say the funeral would be too hard on them.  They are not allowed to say good-bye to loved grandparents because the experience might traumatize them.  In our efforts to protect, we leave it to their imaginations.  That which is left to the imagination is an invitation to nightmares and struggle.”

 – Doug Manning, in The Funeral: A Chance to Touch, A Chance to Serve, A Chance to Heal

While it would be easier to look at this decision as if it were black and white, it’s not. This issue truly is a personal decision based on your individual child – and it should be individually based on each child you have.  Though the parental instinct wants to immediately protect your child from  such a tragic event, opening up to your child about what is going on is the best way to protect them.  As Manning said, avoiding the topic of death simply makes it a more terrifying idea.  Children will try to explain their world in whatever way they can, even death, so leaving them uninformed is simply leaving room for fear.  Whether or not you find attending a funeral would be right for your child, you should take the time to explain to him or her what is going on.  Most importantly, ensure that your child does not feel isolated.  Make sure they understand what is going on, know that there are people they can reach out to, and let them know that their opinions and feelings matter to the family.  Taking the time to reassure and educate your child could make all the difference in how they deal with the loss of a loved one.

Other Resources for Your Consideration:

Father and Son photograph from Kelly B. on Flickr.
Children at Grave photograph from Kratka’s Photography on Flickr.
Girl at Candle Vigil photograph from The U.S. Army on Flickr.

Should Children Attend A Funeral?

December 19th, 2011

When a family member or friend passes away, should your child attend the funeral? What age is appropriate? — The truth is, there is no right answer. It depends on the maturity level of the child and their capacity for understanding and dealing with death.

Ask: Will Your Child Understand?

It’s likely your child has never attended a funeral before, and therefore cannot fully understand what’s going on. Talk to your child about funerals and funeral traditions; if they are unwilling or unable to understand, it may be best to find other arrangements or alternatives for them.  Here are a few tips for talking to your child about funerals:

  • Explain to your child prior to attending exactly what to expect and how they should act.
  • Be sure they understand they have to be quiet and respectful during the event.
  • If they are going through the questioning phase, make sure they know they can ask them after the funeral.

Continue reading “Should Children Attend A Funeral?” »

Grieving Children: Questions about Death

August 23rd, 2011

Do children forget quickly and grieve for only a short period?

Children Coping With Grief Although children have shorter attention spans and seem to forget or ignore tragedy and pain, they can actually grieve longer than adults do. The steps of the grieving process  are taken in short spurts because of their attention spans, but they too, have to go through the same steps of grief as an adult. From accepting and comprehending death to recovering and moving on.

Should we include our children at the funeral?

When it comes to children, honesty is key. Children have large imaginations which can make things worse if they are not told what is going on. Children should be encouraged but never forced to take part as a family during the funeral or wake. This is a time for families to come together, share, comfort and mourn together. Your child shouldn’t be left out.

Our children seem distraught and unusually saddened since the loss of a family member, is this normal?

Children, much like adults can lose control of their emotions. Acute anger and guilt can build up as they might feel abandoned or deserted. They might feel as if the death was their fault. Professional help might be needed if there are prolonged periods of abnormal behavior. Accepting loss takes time, and the process of grief can take years to overcome. But, watching for signs of depression in children is very important, since it is harder for them to express their emotions.

Danger signs in grieving children:

  • Depression: Your child shows a loss of interest in daily activities, bonds between siblings shatter or their school grades drop dramatically.
  • Regression: Your child is acting younger and declining in behavior for an extended amount of time.
  • Isolation: Your child might be withdrawing from social activities and school beyond the first few weeks of grief.
  • Fear: They have problems sleeping, eating or develop a great fear of being alone.
  • Wishing for death: Your child might repeatedly wish to join the dead person or have a preoccupation with the deceased.
  • Extreme Anger: Their behavior becomes belligerent and uncharacteristic.
  • Violence: They show acts of violence against piers, adults or themselves.

Any and all of these symptoms are common and expected when children have to face the loss of a loved one – however, the severity and the length of time that it takes is what you have to look out for. Watch for prolonged periods of time that you child is not acting like themselves.

Offer support and encourage communication using verbal expressions of emotions. Talk with child and ask questions about their feelings. Children have a  hard time communicating especially when it has to do with death. The unknown is scary. You want to answer their questions in the most age appropriate way. Being honest, calm and real. If you cry, it’s ok. Teaching children that tears and sorrow are normal helps them to feel comfortable expressing their grief.

Ask for help

When in doubt, ask for help. Contact a family counselor, your church, or school counselor for help. It is hard to help someone deal with grief, if you too are going through the grief process. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it is encouraged and respected. Be a good role model for your child and accept that grief is a process that takes time and effort to get through.


Planting a Memorial Garden

June 26th, 2011

The purpose of a Memorial Garden is to keep memories of a loved on close by. It’s a tribute in honor and remembrance of someone you have lost.Creating a Memorial Garden

Setting aside a place in your backyard dedicated to your loved one’s memory, gives you a place that is relaxing, serene, and calming. A place to speak to your loved one in the privacy and comfort of your own home. A memorial garden is also a wonderful healing tool for children who are grieving the loss of a parent or sibling. Letting the child help create the memorial, including objects or flowers that are important to them can help ease the pain.

Starting Your Memorial Garden

Create a rock garden by outlining a quiet, secluded area of your yard with stones. Stones you can find in nature or buy from a nursery. Plant flowers or a small tree in the center. Adding decorative, solar lights to your memorial garden will keep the memory of your loved one shining bright.

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Children & Grief: Coping With A Death

December 27th, 2010

Honesty is the Best Policy When Addressing Death with Children

The death of a loved one can be a painful experience for anyone, but for a child, it can be especially difficult. It’s important that adults provide an environment that promotes healing. The National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) offers suggestions on how to help children cope with loss.

Father and Grieving ChildrenIt may be difficult to inform a child about the death of a loved one, but honesty is the best policy. Avoid using euphemisms, such as “Grandma is sleeping” or “Uncle John went on a long trip.” For young children, be straightforward and use simple phrases, such as “…the person’s body has stopped working and won’t work anymore.” For older children, more details may be appropriate.

Many often wonder whether children should attend funerals. Experts agree that it is healthy for children to attend the funerals of their loved ones. Prior to the funeral, parents should discuss with their child what will happen at the visitation, funeral or memorial service. Be honest and clear – children take things literally, so avoid being vague in your descriptions.

If a child feels comfortable, they may wish to play a role in the funeral service. Let them read a poem or letter, or sing or play a song during the service. Funeral directors can find ways for the child to participate in the service.

Just like adults, death is something a child will not just “get over.” In addition to having a confidant who provides continuous love and assurance, there are other ways adults can help children cope with grief.

Be a role model: Children often imitate what they see. They will look to their parents or other significant adults for cues about grieving. It’s important for children to know it’s okay to express their emotions following the death of a loved one.

More Tips For Helping Children Deal With Grief:

Find peer support: For many people, identifying with peers who are going through a similar experience can be uplifting. The camaraderie of a grief support group can be a powerful healing tool.

Incorporate ritual: Whether it’s lighting a candle, helping scatter cremated remains or taking part in an activity that was special to the deceased, rituals can help a child focus on the memory of their loved one.

Use the arts: It may be difficult for children to verbalize their feelings; the arts can be an outlet for expressing grief. Writing, painting, poetry, music and crafts can help children express what they are experiencing.

Continue reading “Children & Grief: Coping With A Death” »