Taking Children to a Funeral

Dear Dr. Rene,

We are comtemplating taking our five and six year olds to their grandfather’s funeral. My instinct says not to, and I want to know what is the current thinking on this.

Thank you!

For sure, this is a difficult and personal decision and should feel comfortable once made.  If your instinct is saying no, for whatever reason, that may be the way to go. You know your own children, their emotional well-being and their relationship with their grandfather, so you ultimately are the best judge. That said, from a psychological standpoint it can be fine to have children attend funerals. Death is a part of life and can be presented as such with a great deal of love and support. I think a lot of how children manage through difficult situations rests in how we present them. If you decide to take them with you, talk about the place and the activity that will happen. Talk about who will be there and that people may be very emotional or quiet. Find out, if you can if it will be an open or closed casket, an indoor or graveside service and talk about those details as well. Prepare them as best you can for the experience and be open to answering all of their questions before, during and after. I would also consider the child’s response. If there is great hesitation or upset over going, it may be they are not yet able to handle the event. I wouldn’t push a child into attending any related activity. If they do not attend the funeral, it may be nice to offer some other way for them to have closure such as making a photo album or taking a nature walk to talk about memories of that person. This also holds true in the other direction. If a child really wants to attend, I would err on the side of taking them, especially if this is an important relationship to the child. Missing the event can’t be undone.

My children have been to several funerals with us for friends and relatives over the years. While they have willingly attended and asked a great many questions after, they have avoided going near the casket at each, and that is fine. We talk openly about the process, our feeling and fond memories we have of that person before and after.

Author: Dr. Rene Hackney

With a MA in school psychology and a PhD in developmental psychology, I founded and work as a parent educator at Parenting Playgroups. Somewhere in there I trained in the Developmental Clinic at Children's NMC and in the public schools. I have two beautiful, funny children who make me practice what I preach most everyday.

2 thoughts on “Taking Children to a Funeral”

  1. Thanks for sharing this. It is a hard decision- and when my brother passed away in a tragic car accident, it was difficult to defend our decision not to allow our boys, 4 and 2 as to why they didn’t attend. I know that people would have like to have seen them, but I think we were glad that we chose for them to remember Uncle Robert just the way he was the last time they saw him on vacation when he was here with us. I think later after the fact, people understood and were ok with it.

  2. It does really depend on the child, the relationship and how it is presented. When I was 5, my parents took me to a great -aunt’s funeral that I had never met so that I could experience what a funeral was like with out being emotionally involved. I so value that experience because I was able to understand when my grandparents and other relatives passed what to expect and wasn’t upset by the casket/burial. We have prepared my oldest son similarly about the same age. Now 7, he is going to go to my grandfather’s funeral Saturday whom he loved dearly. My daughter, age 5 has not been to a funeral old enough to remember so we described what it would be like and gave her the choice. She is choosing to go with us. Like the expert above – it will be their choice if they want to go up to the casket or not. Also My family will want to see the kids and it can provide comic relief at times.

    It is important to have a back up plan – which we do – in that my husband is prepared to take any of our children –including our toddler out of the room if they are disruptive or too upset. And I need to remember some coloring items to keep them busy at the luncheon.:)

    I will say that we only plan to take them to the last viewing/chapel service/burial – not to sit for the hours the day before during the calling times. They don’t need to be there for it and they just started school today so I dont want the to miss the second day. They would be bored for the 4 hours and in between times. The service will help them say good-bye keep their attention.

    We definitely feel it is an important part of life – this is our culture, our faith and our family in how we say good by and speaking from personal experience – introducing it in a positive way as a young child was really helpful for me to be less affected by funerals through out my life.

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