It’s not easy talking about death with your child, or trying to explain what will happen at a loved one’s funeral. Children deserve an honest explanation of why funerals are important, however, since death is a natural part of life. We’ve compiled some helpful ideas to guide the discussion as you navigate this difficult topic.
Honesty Is the Best Policy
Be honest with your child when explaining funerals. Feel free to speak openly about death and dying, and let them know that funerals are how families say a final goodbye to their loved ones. Avoid euphemisms like “Grandpa is sleeping” or “Aunt Maya has passed away” – young children don’t understand the meaning behind such phrases and may wonder why they don’t see Grandpa again.
These conversations will likely lead to difficult questions from your child. Encourage this curiosity and respond as best you can, even if you don’t have all the answers. Asking questions is how children process information and cope with unfamiliar emotions, and they’re simply looking to you for guidance and support.
Explain What Your Child Can Expect
It’s absolutely okay to take a child to a funeral, but be sure to prepare them for the experience in advance. Depending on their age and level of maturity, most children benefit from clear and honest explanations of what occurs because it helps to tailor their expectations accordingly. A good way to start is by discussing the different aspects of a funeral service.
Before you attend a viewing/wake with your child, explain what the event is and let them know they might see the body of the deceased person (if the casket is open). Some funeral homes offer private viewings for family members to pay their respects beforehand, which is a good opportunity for children who may be especially nervous or scared.
Discuss the different types of funerals and events that occur during the funeral service (e.g., the eulogy, special tributes, songs, prayers). These elements help people honor the memory of their loved one, but not all funerals are the same. Various cultures have specific customs regarding death and burial, so it’s important to discuss these traditions with your child – and to walk them through the basic rules of funeral etiquette.
After the funeral service, guests often accompany the family to the cemetery for the graveside ceremony. Explain to your child that this is when the casket is lowered into the grave and the deceased person is laid to rest. This can be a very emotional experience, so if you don’t think your child is ready, it might be better to skip the graveside ceremony and visit with family afterwards.
Cremation is becoming more popular in the US. Your child may have questions about how the cremation process works and how it’s different from a traditional funeral. If you have young children, help them understand that cremation is not painful and will not hurt the deceased person.
It is also important to talk about cremation urns, and how ashes are eventually buried. Also mention that families can still hold a funeral service or memorial ceremony to honor their loved ones, whether that’s before or after the actual cremation process.
Ask Your Child for Input
Another way to help your child understand the importance of funerals is to include them in the funeral planning process. They can help choose the casket, contribute to the eulogy, or even say a tribute at the funeral service. Actively participating in funeral events can help children cope with the strong emotions of grief and loss.
Who Will Be at the Funeral?
If you are taking your child to a funeral, talk to them about funeral attendees who may be become overly emotional during the service. As family members, friends, and guests come to pay their respects, your child may become overwhelmed. Let them know that it is perfectly okay to take a break when necessary, and be sure to offer your love and support if they show signs of stress.
After the Funeral
Your child should be aware that a lot happens after the funeral service. Visitors often stop by the family home to offer sympathy and support, and it might take a while for things to get back to “normal” as family members adjust to their new reality.
Keep in mind that children grieve differently compared to adults. They may start to develop new fears about death, act out of character, or withdraw into themselves. Help your child cope with grief by listening without judgment and reassure them that you will be there to support them during this stressful time. Talk to a grief counselor if you are concerned that your child is coping poorly.
Memorialize your Loved One
Being honest and patient with your child before, during, and after the funeral is crucial. While adjusting to the loss of a loved one is a difficult undertaking, all children need your full attention and unwavering love.
As you explain funerals to your child, also be sure to talk about the importance of remembering the deceased. Create new traditions by finding ways to memorialize and celebrate the life of your loved one as a family.Back to Knowledge Center