Should Children Attend Funerals?

Funeral practices; visitations, memorials and burials, are undergoing a change across North America and around the world.  New traditions are frequently replacing the customary funeral home visitation, religious service and casket burial in favor of more personal and intimate memorials.  But despite these changes, one question persists for many families, “Should children attend the funeral of a loved one?”

Some parents or grandparents feel that children don’t belong at funerals but many cultures embrace having even very young children in attendance, not only to say farewell but also to gather with their larger extended family.  Regrettably, many families only get everyone together for big life events such as funerals or weddings and these may be the only opportunities for children to hear the stories of their elders.

Older adults often find joy in seeing little ones running around, even if they don’t fully understand the circumstances.  It’s good practice too for today’s youth to understand that funerals and death are a part of life and that just by showing up you are supporting the people you love.

There may be times when children should be protected in the case of a very tragic death but learning to say goodbye to an elderly family member and understanding both the etiquette and the way different people express their grief is an important lesson.  Most would agree that forcing children to approach an open casket isn’t necessary but with a little preparation about what will happen at the service, they can participate in as much as they feel comfortable.

Too many adults today, shielded from death as children, avoid funerals because they are uncomfortable or afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing.  But according to a recent piece in Psychology Today, participating in the rituals following death helps children accept the death and feel the support of friends and family.   The more often children are exposed to mourning and the traditions after the death of a friend or family member, the more they will be able to feel comfortable attending funerals as adults.  And whether religious or secular, funerals and memorials offer people of all ages an opportunity to connect with others, share fond memories, and feel the support of community. 

Whether kids only come to the visitation and not the cemetery or are included in the whole service, they are usually welcomed and cherished participants in any funeral service.  To read more about children attending funeral services, visit the healthychildren website, sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics.