Some parents wonder if it's appropriate to allow their children to attend the funeral. Most experts agree that children should be allowed to attend the funeral or memorial service if they want to. Participating in ceremonies gives your child a chance to process what happened, grieve, and say goodbye. Explain what happens at funerals, including that some people may be crying and that the body of the deceased will be in a casket. Then let your child decide if he wants to go.
If a child is scared, do not force him to go. Rather, encourage him to honor the person in another way that is meaningful to him. If he does not attend formal services, make sure that he still experiences the benefit that comes with grieving with loved ones and allow him to recall meaningful memories with you.
The Bottom Line: Children Should Never Worry (or Grieve) Alone
Paula K. Rauch, MD, author of Raising an Emotionally Healthy Child When a Parent Is Sick, encourages parents to tell children not to worry alone but to share their worries with a parent or other designated caring adult. Parents can let children know that the most productive worrying happens as a team. If children share concerns with a parent, those concerns can be addressed together. When children do not share their worries, parents cannot worry with them and can only worry about them. Being worried about often does not feel good to a child and is not very useful. Worrying with a child, so that challenges are faced as a parent-child team, prevents children from feeling alone or overwhelmed, models good problem-solving skills, and improves resilience.
Dr. Rauch's wisdom about worrying about a sick parent translates into grieving as well—children should not grieve alone. Many parents and children need help starting a conversation about emotionally challenging situations. Children are most likely to talk to caring adults who listen with curiosity and respect. Asking a child to tell a parent what he has heard or noticed is often a good place to start. After hearing from the child, the parent can connect the child's observations to the situation being faced.
Other approaches to opening a conversation could be to ask the child to tell the parent how he would explain this challenging experience or difficult feeling to a friend or classmate or to ask a child what others who haven't lived this experience would be surprised to learn or might not understand about it. An older child who is reluctant to show sadness about an upsetting experience may respond to the question, "What is the dumbest thing anyone has said to you?" The best parent-child conversations are those in which the child does about 3 times as much talking as the parent.
Remember, Loss Will Always Be a Part of Our Lives
As parents, we wish we could shield our children from sadness and loss. Unfortunately, loss will always be a part of life, and if we prepare our children to cope in healthy ways, they will be more likely to bounce back. With your love and guidance, your child can get through the death of a loved one and build important coping skills that will allow him to remain resilient when he is inevitably faced with loss again in the future.
Take care of yourself
Remember first to take care of yourself. You will not be able to give your child the kind of support he needs if you haven't addressed your own need to grieve. Taking care of yourself is one of the most strategic acts of good parenting because it ensures that you are fully present and capable of offering love and guidance to your child in his time of need.