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.

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