Trying to talk to children—especially very young children—about funerals can be incredibly stressful. As adults, we worry about causing too much stress or allowing our children to feel too much pain. It is our instinct to shield them from death and the grief that follows it for as long as possible.

The primary problem with this is that, if we don’t tell them about death, the grieving process and how funerals and memorial services work, our kids are going to fill in the blanks for themselves. You already know how creative a child’s imagination can be. Do you really want your son or daughter to invent reasons for why a beloved friend or relative is no longer coming to visit? Or, worse still, do you want them to learn from friends or another source?

While it might be stressful and even painful for both you and your children it really is better to talk to them about death and funerals yourself.

Talking About Death

The best way to approach the subjects of death and funerals is to remember your children’s age and to keep things in as simple terms as possible. It is difficult for younger children to grasp the concept of never seeing a loved one again, but it is important to not lie or gloss over this fact.

After breaking the news about the death of a loved one, your child is probably going to have a lot of questions. Some you’ll be able to answer easily and honestly and some you won’t. It is okay to falter here, your answers don’t have to be perfect; they simply need to be honest. It is okay to admit that you do not know something for sure, like “what happens after we die?” but to talk about what you believe. It is even okay to ask your children questions about what they think or would like to believe.

Should Children Attend Funerals?

This is an incredibly personal decision and is best decided by you and your family, you know your own children. If you think that they can handle attending or participating in the funeral or memorial service and that is something that they want to do, it is best to let them.

We largely have a “seen and not heard” method of dealing with children during the loss of a loved one—we leave the children out of the bereavement process because we want to spare them pain. For many children though, the ability to attend—to see the funeral, to get a chance to say goodbye, it is just as important for them as it is for us.

It is also worth noting that every Brighton Funeral Director is equipped and trained to deal with family members of all ages and can often fill in blanks about the day for your child that you don’t know how to explain.
Should Children Participate in Funerals?

Again, this is up to you and your family. The arrangement of a funeral is an incredibly personal process and each service is different. If your son or daughter wants to participate in the funeral by reading something or saying a few words and the service can accommodate that, there is no harm in letting them participate.

Note: If your child does decide to read something or participate in some other way, the best thing you can do is accompany your child throughout the process. Stand with them while they speak or sing, help them read if they find they have a difficult time, or hold their hand if they need or want it.

Sometimes, even if a child wants to participate, he or she is simply too young to do so. If you have a very young child or a child who is too shy to participate, involve those children in other ways:

  • Let them choose what the deceased will wear during the funeral
  • Let them help plan the service—what music is played, which pieces are read, etc.
  • Let them help plan the spreading of ashes if your loved one is cremated.

The more involved your children are in the process (as much as their comfort levels will allow), the better it often is for them. Helping lay a loved one to rest helps them, and you, accept the finality of the loss.
Still, it won’t be easy. Grief, funerals and memorial services are difficult by nature. Remember that emotions will be running high and that it is okay to take a few moments to just feel things when you need to. This, too, helps your children grieve by showing them that feeling sad is okay and that there are healthy ways to deal with those emotions.