By Felicity Lewis

There will inevitably come a time when you, as an adult need to attend a funeral.  As hard as funerals can be for us as adults, we are occasionally faced with a difficult decision—do I bring my child to the funeral of a deceased loved one.  There’s no right answer; every family and every child is different. Ultimately, you as the parent, know your child best and need to make the decision. If you are faced with this choice and elect to bring your little one along, here are some suggestions to help get through the process and the event as smoothly as possible.  

If you are taking your child to a funeral, you are probably going to get hit with questions about death.  If you are working through the process with a toddlers or younger elementary kid, it is very important to develop a consistent answer to the questions surrounding death for you and other adults that may mention it.  We talked with our little one’s teachers to give them a heads up and asked them to let us know if they get questions about death and funerals. Once we were all on the same page, we gauged our child’s maturity and understanding and gave him age-appropriate answers to the questions he asked.   Older children will obviously have a greater understanding of what is going on and why a funeral is significant, but this type of communication with teachers or other adults your child is frequently around will still be very helpful to aid in discussion.

Answering questions on your child’s level is key.  Too much detail and your child will freak out. Not enough information can cause even more anxiety.  It’s a delicate situation that feels like you are walking a tightrope. So, again, know your audience.  Try to think about how your child will react. Check out the list of books listed below for some helpful books to read at home.  We frequently prep kids with a book about school the night before heading off to kindergarten, so why not utilize tools like that for other major life events as well! 

If you are able to find out the plan for the service ahead of time, use that to your advantage.  Many kids, mine included, love singing. Telling your child that they will get to sing, and maybe even teaching them a song that will be sung ahead of time can help during the service.  Maybe don’t choose the most sorrowful one in the bulletin, lest your child shows up at school singing funeral tunes, but a happier hymn or song like It’s a Wonderful World might be nice.  Learning the song will be exciting for them and will provide some familiarity during the service which is helpful. 

One thing that sticks in my mind constantly from teaching is the importance of explaining routines and providing that consistency for children.  It reduces anxiety and helps them plan what’s next in their ever-changing brains. Most funeral services have some form of stories or reflection on a person’s life, which for a child can be extremely cool.  The “wow” moments of hearing that great-grandma rode a horse to basketball practice can definitely keep their attention but may also cause more questions, which for little ones can be difficult to stop in the moment.  So ahead of time, tell them you can’t wait to talk more about the fun things that person did once the service is over, but during the service we need to stay quiet. Easier said than done but will definitely help in the long run!

Keeping them occupied and somewhat entertained at the gatherings has been a big challenge for us.  This can be especially difficult when the whole family is there and grieving, since babysitter options can then be limited and emotions high.  Coloring books, hand-held toys, and small books have been very helpful for us and can distract the child for the majority of the service if need be.  We have tried to keep a few items which are both “cool” and not frequently played with or are new. It is also important to think about how your child will use the items you let him/her bring.  If you have a child that loves to make car sounds with a hot wheels car, that may not be the best option! Snacks are also great for distracting them. I love snacks that take time to eat like raisins; not only are they working on that pincer grip but it takes a while for them to eat the whole box plus it is an easy clean up for you if they drop one. We have all been there when a snack becomes more of a decoration on your child and location!! With limited attention spans, give them (and yourself!) grace and patience.  Plan to sit off to the side near an exit if possible not only for distraction purposes but also in case of bathroom emergencies! 

Recently at a funeral I happened to come across a note card that said, “families, never apologize for children and their wiggles because God gave them those wiggles.” I thought that was perfectly fitting for any setting with children, no matter your religious belief. Each of us were once children with wiggles, so remember to give yourself grace and praise for prepping your child and self for an emotional and stressful event like this! 

Books for Children About Death
Click HERE to view these books on Amazon

~ “The Invisible String” by Patrice Karst
~ “The Rabbit Listened” by Cori Doerrfeld
~ “The Memory Box” by Joanna Rowland
~ “A Place Called Heaven for Kids” by Dr. Robert Jeffress
~ “I Miss You – A First Look at Death” by Pat Thomas
~ “Something Very Sad Happened: A Toddler’s Guide to Understanding Death” By Bonnie Zucker
~ “The Goodbye Book” by Todd Parr

Local resources 

~ School Counselors
~ Religious groups
~ Therapists (Click HERE to view TMoM’s list of local therapists)
~ Often local support groups online (Click HERE to view TMoM’s list of local support groups)

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