Should you take your child to a funeral? What’s the funeral etiquette with taking babies and children?
For most of us, the answer isn’t always so clear. Too many pros and cons muddle what seems like a simple question.
I faced this dilemma several weeks ago when my aunt passed away. No gut feelings swayed me either way on whether to bring the boys (ages five and two) to the viewing or service. No clear rules or AAP-recommended guidelines or expert advice made it certain whether to bring kids to a funeral or not.
And I can see why: a funeral is an emotional event, and with so many factors to consider, hard set rules aren’t practical or realistic for everyone.
Instead, I asked myself several questions to help me decide whether to bring my kids to the funeral or not. If you find yourself in the same scenario, consider these following questions to help you decide (then I’ll let you know whether I took my kids or not in the end).
Should you take your child to a funeral?
#1: What’s your child’s relationship to the deceased?
One factor to consider is the relationship between your child and the deceased. If your child was close to his grandfather, for instance, attending the funeral would offer your little guy a chance to grieve and say goodbye rather than explaining that grandpa has died and will no longer come to visit.
And if it seems strange to you not to bring your child, then bring him. If any of my immediate family members had been the one to pass away, there would be no question that my kids would attend their funerals—doing otherwise would seem unnatural.
#2: How much do you need to grieve?
Unless you have a sitter, you’ll likely be the one taking care of your kids during the funeral. You may not want to explain everything to your kids or worry how they’ll react seeing you not as put together as you normally are. And if you anticipate needing this time to grieve, you may want to consider leaving them home just to give you the opportunity to say goodbye without worrying about your kids.
#3: What’s your child’s threshold and temperament for long services?
I’ve been to funerals and seen kids who can sit quietly—front row and everything—without a peep or disturbance. I’ve also attended funerals and seen the opposite: kids getting frustrated and interrupting the services.
Let’s face it: funeral services are long and sometimes stifling to little kids who may not understand or aren’t developmentally old enough to sit for long periods of time. A child who can sit quietly for stretches of time would be easier to take than another who might disrupt the service with a tantrum.
#4: What are the logistics for taking the kids or not?
Sometimes, regardless of any of the above mentioned, logistics are the ones that determine whether to take the kids or leave them home. Maybe you need to drive out of town to attend the service and can’t schedule a last-minute weekend sitter and therefore need to take the kids with you. On the other hand, maybe airline flights are too expensive for the entire family to attend, so the kids need to stay home. Plans can often dictate whether we take the kids or not.
#5: Are you trying to ‘protect’ them from death or avoid the subject?
We can’t avoid death, even from our kids. At some point, a discussion is called for, whether from noticing a withered flower arrangement to the passing of a pet. Kids don’t understand death the way you and I do, but not taking them to funerals for the sake of avoiding the ensuing discussion might not be the best reason.
While you don’t want to expose your child to the graphic and difficult aspects of dying (for instance, I didn’t want to bring my kids to visit my aunt during her last few days, as her appearance was so different and would probably confuse and even frighten them, not understanding the progression of illness), trying to protect your kids from what can be a healthy discussion may not be the best reason to avoid bringing them.
Similarly, if you’re worried your kids will get scared from seeing the body, remember that they can still attend the funeral without going up to the coffin.
How to discuss the events of a funeral service with your child
Whether you bring your child or not, they’ll still ask what a funeral is and where and why you’re going. Here are tips to help discuss death and funerals:
- Explain death as honestly and clearly as you can, at their level.
- Use clear—even frank—language as opposed to vague ones (for instance, say that the person has died, not ‘passed away’ or ‘gone on a journey’).
- If they attend any events, describe what they can expect, such as how people are dressed and that they’ll probably see a lot of people cry.
- Explain that people are crying because doing so makes them feel better (so your kids aren’t distraught with everyone’s tears).
- Don’t force your kids to view the body.
- Read books, such as A Grand Old Tree by Mary Newell DePalma.
The verdict: Should you take your child to a funeral?
Did I end up taking my kids to the funeral?
No, I didn’t. The main factors for me were their relationship to the deceased, their temperaments and my need to grieve.
While I was close to my aunt and cousins, my kids weren’t too familiar with her. I also wasn’t sure whether they’d be able to sit for hours during the viewing, services or burial. And I wanted to be able to simply say goodbye and be among my family free of child care duties.
This may not always be the case for every funeral I attend. With age and varying degrees of relationships, I may find myself taking them to some, while leaving them home for others.
Of those who attended my aunt’s funeral, some brought their kids while others didn’t. Clearly there was no set rule, and each family did what worked best for them.
Hopefully these questions will help you decide the best for your family and the person you are honoring during the funeral.
Your turn: Should you take your child to a funeral? Have you brought your children to a funeral? What were some of the factors that led to your decision whether to bring them or not? Let me know in the comments!
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