Posted on May 27, 2016 by Anne Corvelle
When a close relative or friend dies, many parents of teens and young children often ask themselves the same questions, “Should we take the kids?”, “What do we say?”, “What should we do?” As we struggle with the death of a loved one, we need to realize that children struggle, too, and it’s often because they simply don’t understand. When we needed to attend a family member’s funeral four years ago, I asked our pediatrician for advice and gained some useful insight in the process: Children are a part of the family – if you’re old enough to love, you’re old enough to grieve.
First and foremost, explaining the purpose of a funeral is a good starting point. Make certain to be honest with your children and resist the urge to hide your feelings. Face it, kids know when adults are lying. Ask them what they think and know about death, as this will give you much insight into how to approach the subject. It is important to give them factual information as well as the freedom to ask questions and discuss their feelings. Children need to know what will happen at the events surrounding a funeral service, as well as who will be there and the basics of what to expect. If the deceased loved one is a close relative, and if the child is comfortable, ask them to help with some aspect of the service, perhaps letting them help select the music or some other detail (the smaller the decision and fewer choices, the better).
The age of your child also plays an important role in how to address the subject. Infants and toddlers won’t get it, but the youngest of family members can be comforting at such a difficult time. Although plans need to be in place for who will take them out of the room when they get either noisy or bored (which, you know, often goes hand-in- hand). Preschool and early school-age (about 3 to 6 years old) children are only able to grasp the basics of death, but most do not understand the finality. School-age children (7+) are able to understand the permanence of death. With both groups, it is important to not protect them from death and be certain that they understand that it is a sad and natural part of life when someone’s body simply stops working. Please, do not liken death to sleep as this could potentially cause psychological and sleep issues. Teens are the most finicky of the bunch as they understand the concept of death and will often be embarrassed either by their own emotions or witnessing those of others.
With all children, it is extremely important to not force them to attend a viewing or service. Be sure to give them space and time to internalize and discuss their thoughts and feelings. Give them a choice if they want to attend and what or how much they’ll be comfortable with. Tell them that it is important for you to have them there, but don’t force them or make them feel guilty for not wanting to go. If you are at the viewing or funeral service and your child tells you that they are or they appear to be frightened, please find a neutral place for them to unwind, talk, or play. At the Charles F. Snyder Funeral Home & Crematory, we understand the needs of young children and, at our Lititz Pike location, we have a children’s play area where kids can take their minds off the gravity of the situation.
As parents, we frequently second-guess ourselves, but please realize and accept that it is OK to not have all the answers.
Our four funeral homes in Lancaster County makes it easy and convenient to make arrangements and host services close to home.