Helping children to understand what goes on at a funeral will assist with the grieving process.
Trying to decide whether the children go to the funeral or not can be an added stress at a difficult time. Avoid getting into a family argument about this, but do what is best for your family. Children grieve also, but may not have the words to express how they feel. Attending a funeral of a loved one may be a way to help your child make the death real, and help them to make meaning of what is going on.
Be honest and talk about what it means to go to a funeral. Help your child prepare by explaining what they will see and what will happen. Find out what they are thinking – they may be thinking they will have to touch the deceased, or may seem them in a frightening way. Prepare them for an open casket and explain that it is a way to say goodbye.
Talk about what it means to die – that physically the body has stopped working.
Help children to express the way they feel. Reassure them that it is normal for people to express their feelings in different ways, through tears, laughter, or silence. Children can become alarmed when they see their parents crying. Explain that you may feel sad and this is a normal way to express sadness.
Give them the details of the funeral service and be open to answer their questions. Describe what will happen at the church or funeral home and after at the cemetery. Explain your family’s belief system.
Help your child in saying goodbye to their loved one by either writing a poem or letter, painting a picture, or bringing flowers to place at the casket or grave. Children can also remember their loved on by making a photo album, starting a memory box, or planting a tree in memory of their loved one. Encourage them to share their happy memories.
Be mindful of the language you are using. Say ‘they died’ rather than ‘passed away’. Avoid saying ‘God took them’ which may insight anger at God, or that ‘they are sleeping’ which may make your child anxious about going to sleep.
After giving your child all the information about the funeral process, ask them if they want to attend. A serious refusal may be an opportunity to check what your child is thinking and their fears. Forcing children to attend a funeral when they don’t want to, may produce fear and anxiety. However, protecting them from death and not permitting them to attend when they want to, may also lead to a fear of death and funerals and what is a part of life.
Helping and reassuring a child to face a difficult situation can promote confidence and resilience. Getting through a hard time as a family will show your child that your family can be an important support structure in difficult times.