Should Children Attend a Funeral?

When arranging a funeral many decisions are being made, including whether or not children should attend too. Deciding to include children at a funeral, wake or memorial depends entirely on you and your child. While there is no right or wrong answer we highly recommend making the decision together with the child or children in the family. 

In this blog we'll consider: 

  • How does attending a funeral help children through their grief?
  • How to support your child attending a funeral.
  • How to prepare children attending a funeral.
  • How to involve children in a service.
  • Tips for explaining how a funeral works.

How Attending a Funeral Can Help Children Through Grief

As a parent or guardian, you may worry that attending a funeral will have negative effects on your child. On the contrary, experts from Psychology Today and the Child Mind Institute say that going to the funeral of a loved one can actually help children understand and cope with feelings of loss. 

You can read our guide on supporting children through grief here.

Adults and children may find funerals overwhelming, emotional or distressing. However, funerals are important in helping people cope with their grief in a healthy way and this can be very beneficial for children. You can read more about the importance of funerals here

These are ways in which attending a loved one’s funeral can help children cope with grief:
1.    Attending the funeral can help children understand death, dying and grief with the support of their family. 
2.    Including children in the funeral or memorial service helps validate their feelings of loss and grief for the person who has died.
3.    Children’s grief is valid and by attending the funeral their relationship with the person who has died will be honoured.
4.    Attending a funeral or memorial service can be therapeutic for children. 
5.    Going to a funeral with their family and community can help with the healing process.
6.    Children may be able to talk about and remember special memories of their loved one with family and friends. 
7.    Funerals are an opportunity for children to say goodbye to their loved one who has died. 

How to Support a Child Attending a Funeral

You may be reluctant to include babies or very small children in the funeral service as they might be disruptive to the service and to other attendees. Fortunately, there are ways that you can minimise disruption, see below. Older kids can decide whether to attend or not, based on how well they feel they can handle the day’s events. 

The age that children are permitted to attend a funeral may also depend on your religious or cultural beliefs. Here’s how you can support your child in the lead up to a service and at the service itself;

1.    Give your child the choice to attend the funeral (or not)

While you may want to make this decision for your child, it is very important that you allow them to decide whether they want to attend the funeral or not themselves. If this decision is made for them, children can feel as though their feelings of loss and grief are not as valid as the adults’ which can be harmful to them in the long run. If your child can participate in other family events they can also choose to attend funerals and memorials. 

Keep in mind to offer your child the choice to participate at every step of the service and never force them to do something that might make them uncomfortable, for example, touching the body. 

2.    Give them an alternative option

If your child chooses not to attend the service you can give them a safe alternative option to do on the day. They may wish to stay home with a trusted babysitter or spend the day with a friend. You can remind your child that they can change their mind at any time and join the funeral service if they want to, keeping all options open to them. It’s important for children to know that they can change their mind if they want to, especially on such an emotional and confusing day. 

3.    Prepare your child before the funeral

Before the funeral, set aside some time with just the children to prepare them for the upcoming events. In simple language tell them exactly what will happen on the day in as much detail as you can. This will help prevent any shocks on the day and let them identify which parts of the day might make them uncomfortable or scared. If it is an open casket funeral children may be alarmed at seeing the body in its resting state. You may want to tell them that the body will be cold to the touch, and that the person who has died is not going to wake up. 

Many children find it distressing to see their parents or siblings crying or upset, so telling them that people including their mum or dad will be upset or crying at the funeral will help prepare them. Also be sure to tell your child that it is normal for people to show emotion at funerals and it is nothing to be anxious about. If you’re unsure about the details of what will happen on the day, ask your funeral director for support. 

4.    Encourage questions before, during and after the service

Kids ask a lot of questions! Especially about things that are new, confusing or scary - like funerals. It’s important that you encourage your child to ask any questions they might have about the funeral, the person who has died, the body, the burial or cremation, and anything else that pops into their head. Younger children may especially be scared, and having their questions answered without any judgement will help them become more comfortable. We understand that some questions may be difficult to answer but we encourage you to be as honest as possible, and if you’re unsure ask for help or research the topic with your child! The answers to some questions may also depend on what religion or culture you’re from. 

Questions children may ask:
- Is Grandma sleeping?
- Is death forever?
- Will I see Grandpa again?
- Does it hurt to be cremated/buried?
- Who will take care of me?
- Where do we go after we die?
- Why is Mummy crying? Is she sad?

5.    Offer extra support on the day

Depending on the age of the children attending it may be helpful to have a trusted adult or babysitter watch over the kids and answer their questions throughout the day. Planning ahead to have someone take on this role at the funeral may help keep the funeral stress free for both parents and children. It will also help keep disruptions to a minimum out of respect for the other mourners. 

6.    Get children involved in the funeral arrangements

Although the adults will be the ones making the funeral arrangements, getting children involved in some decisions can help them feel included. Many children would love to help with some tasks like choosing flowers or what colour the person who has died can wear in the casket. If your child had a special relationship with the person who has died, their Grandmother for instance, they may know that her favourite flowers were pink roses and wish to include them in the service. Children may also have ideas for where to scatter the ashes ( or may want to commemorate their loved one in a special way. Offer them options! Asking younger children to write a poem or make a drawing to place in the casket or include in the Order of Service will also help them feel connected to what is happening. 

7.    Explain the burial method and what will happen to the body 

A key question children often have is what will happen to the body after it is buried or cremated. Younger children especially have difficulty understanding the permanence of death and they may be confused or scared by the terms “cremation” or “burial”. Explain to them how the processes work and that the body cannot feel pain or sensation after death. You can also go over the many different choices for burial or cremation, like water cremation ( or eco funerals (  

8.    Chat with a grief counsellor together

We know it can be difficult to cope with your own grief as well as support your child through their grief. It isn’t easy especially if you don’t know where to start and are going through a tough time yourself. Speaking to an experienced grief counsellor with your child can help tremendously. Children often feel heard and validated when given the opportunity to speak to a counsellor. Grief counselling for both adults and children can provide a great starting point to healing your grief together. Your funeral director will be able to recommend trusted grief counsellors in your area. 

9.    Be honest with children about death, dying and grief

Honesty is the best policy when it comes to supporting your child to attend a loved one’s funeral. If this is their first ever experience with a funeral, answering their questions and showing them that death and grief are normal parts of life will help them cope in a healthy way. 

So, Should Children Attend Funerals?

Our answer: If it is their choice to attend and they have support to express their feelings of grief and loss, then it may be beneficial for children to attend funerals. 

We hope you found this guide to supporting the children in your life to attend a funeral helpful. The Farewell Guide aims to remove the stigma of death, dying and funerals by offering honest and informative guides that facilitate open conversations with your loved ones and support you through the funeral planning process. 


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