One question many families have is should children attend funerals? The answer is not a simple yes or no, but one that should be looked at on an individual basis.

First of all, each family has its own set of traditions and beliefs which will play a strong role in funeral and memorial service planning and decisions.  However, parents may not be aware that one of the most helpful things they can do for their children during this time is to give them choices.

The age of a child should not be the sole determining factor, but there are some guidelines and factors you may want to keep in mind when considering bringing children to a funeral.

Infants and very small children do not comprehend what a funeral service is, and at this young age it may be best not to bring them.  Laura Markham, a child psychologist and author of the book “Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting” said “a toddler or preschooler will often get bored and will need to be taken out when they have had enough.”

With young children and teenagers, the situation is different. They are more open and aware than we often give them credit for.  In general, young children do not have a fear of the deceased as many adults believe they do. A good rule of thumb is to offer the invitation for them to attend the service without forcing them to do so. Let them know what will take place: who will be at the service, what will take place, where it will be held, and when it will happen.

Suzanne Robin, a registered nurse who contributes to the blog, wrote, “Just asking your child whether he wants to attend a funeral isn’t enough. You need to help your child make the decision; you can do this in several ways. Explain to him exactly what will happen. If there is an open casket, let him know he doesn’t have to see the person, touch him, kiss him or any of the other actions he might see other people doing. Tell him who will be there and where the service will be. If the service will be in an unfamiliar church, tell him a little about any religious rituals he might see carried out.”

We know it is never easy to say goodbye to a loved one, no matter what our age is. A funeral provides a meaningful experience for children to say goodbye in a way that feels right to them. It helps in the grief process and is ultimately part of the healing.

Additional information and resources on this topic may be found on our website’s Grief Resources section here.