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Children at Funerals - should they go?

The funeral, a ritual that has been with us since the beginning of time, is here to help us embrace the life that was lived and support each other as we go forward. As caring adults, we will serve our children well to introduce them to the value of coming together when someone we love dies.” – Dr. Alan Wolfelt

Henry reading off palm cards at his Poppy's funeral

We have seen a shift towards children being included more in funerals and memorial services. These photos show Henry and Tyler at their Grandfather (Poppy) Gary’s funeral. Henry stood on a stool at the lectern and shared his favourite memories of Poppy which he had written himself on palm cards, and Tyler beautifully sang “Cover Me in Sunshine” for her poppy. Neither Henry nor Tyler were forced to participate, and both of them were fully supported by their parents and families.

Tyler singing Cover Me in Sunshine at her grandfather's funeral.

At other funerals, we have assisted many children as they brought forward their hand written cards, drawings, favourite stuffed toys, flowers, even lollies, to be placed on their grandparent/parent’s casket. Other children have played musical instruments, read poems, or performed their favourite songs. Some children have cried, others have not shed a tear, but the common thread for every child has been their willingness to participate, and the comfort and support given by their parents and families.

Unless they have attended one before, children don’t know what to expect from a funeral or memorial service. You can help them by explaining what will happen before, during and after the ceremony. Let your child’s questions and curiosity guide the discussion.

1. Should your child attend the funeral

Funerals can be an important part of the grieving process. They are a time to symbolically say goodbye and get on the path of accepting that a loved one is no longer here. When it comes to kids attending funerals, there is no right or wrong decision on whether your child should or should not attend the funeral or memorial service. Offering your child the option to go is one opportunity for them to say ‘goodbye’ to a special person.

2. Discuss what they will see

Your child may feel a bit anxious at first, so try to give them as accurate a picture as possible. If you can find pictures on the internet, show them what a casket looks like, that there will probably be flowers and photos in frames. If it’s a memorial service (there is no casket) there may be a memorial table set up with the person’s photos and special memorabilia. Show your child where people will stand to speak. It may be the first time they will see a number of adults expressing their sadness and openly crying, and explain to them these emotions are part of the purpose of a funeral – to give people an opportunity to be sad together. They may also see other people who don’t look sad, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t. We all show emotions in different ways.

3. It’s normal to have different feelings

It’s important that a child knows that whatever they feel at the funeral is normal. If they were close to the person who has died, it’s okay to cry or not cry. Allow them to feel what they feel. They may even hear funny stories about the person which will make people laugh. It’s okay to laugh along with them as they talk about the fun times with the person.

4. Talk to your child about death

Talking about death with others is a topic most people choose to avoid, so you may feel more hesitant and protective when it comes to explaining death to your child. Having an understanding of death is not harmful; it’s necessary. In most cases, a child trusts their parent(s) more than any other adult, which is why this information should come from you.

Before talking to your child about death, take into account their level of maturity. Consider how they’ve responded to the death of a pet, or how they usually respond to stressful situations. Speak to your child in simple terms; be concise, and clear, and don’t be afraid to use the words dead and died. In fact, it’s better not to use euphemisms which can be confusing to children, so tell it like it is but in gentle terms.

Your child may ask you many questions, or they might quietly be processing everything you’ve explained. It’s a lot for them to take in, especially if they’ve seen their parents and family in the acute stages of grief following the time of death. It’s best to give information rather than euphemisms as they are processing the death and what it means. If, for example, you say to your child that the person is just sleeping, the child may feel frightened that someone can fall asleep and never wake up, or the opposite, that the person has fallen asleep and will wake up one day.

The person is dead because their body has stopped working. It doesn’t see, hear, feel, eat, breathe etc. anymore. The most important thing to emphasise is that because the person is dead, they don’t feel any pain. Depending on your spiritual beliefs, discuss what happens to the person’s soul. Speak about love and how to remember the person.

5. Teach them about appropriate etiquette at the funeral service

Explain to your child that they must be respectful in their behaviour at the service, and what not to do, keeping in mind that children are children, especially if they’re very young. If their behaviour is distracting to others, you may need to take them outside for a quick break. Prepare yourself by giving your child a quiet activity like a colouring book.

6. Participation in the service

An anonymous author once wrote, “When words are inadequate, have a ritual.” A funeral is a ritual which comprises of a series of gestures, words and actions. Nowadays it’s not uncommon at funeral and memorial services for people attending to be invited to participate as it may help them to move through their individual grief.

You can suggest to your child that they may draw a colourful card or which they can place with the person on the casket/coffin, or you can place it there on their behalf. Older children may be able to write a letter, or be assisted to light a candle. Some children can come forward and read a poem, or share a poem with a sibling. Thanks to the common use of mobile phones, your child may want to record a short video clip speaking of their favourite memory of the person, and this can be played during the service. By allowing children to participate, you validate their grief and show them that they, too, are important.

We hope this helps. For further advice and guidance, feel free to reach out to us at

We’re here for you,

Lillian & Nicque

Funeral Directors & Celebrants

The Last Time

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