Preparing Children for a Funeral

Children need to feel a part of the family. A funeral or calling hours can be a good time to help the child feel a part of what has happened. There are some guidelines you might want to follow to help your child with the funeral experience.

1. Let the child know what a funeral is and that it is to say goodbye to the deceased person, to show that the person was
loved and appreciated, and to give comfort and support to the family members.

2. Talk about where the funeral will be held. Describe the room, the casket, the appearance of the body and basic
information about what happens to a body when a person dies – the heart stops beating, stops breathing, cannot
think or feel, etc.

3. Never force a child to go to a funeral, touch a body, kiss a body, etc.

4. Allow the child to be part of the funeral planning. This inclusion is important.

5. Plan to have someone answer questions about the funeral process (friend, funeral director, clergy) if you cannot
handle those questions at that time. Talk about cremation if that has been chosen.

6. Let the child know that it is permissible to write a note, draw a picture, or leave an item in the casket making sure the
child understands that the deceased person cannot give it back or answer it.

7. Take the child to view the body before visitors come to give the child a chance to adjust, question, or react.

8. Ask the funeral director to show the legs of the body to the child if they want to make certain that all of the body is there.

9. Explain the purpose of the casket (keeps dirt off the person) and the purpose of the vault (keeps insects and water out
of the casket).

10. Allow the child to “touch” things (the casket, flowers, the body) if the child chooses.

11. Do not insist that a young child stay for call hours or go to the funeral – allow the child to make the decision.

12. Explain that calling hours and the funeral allow people to come and say that they are sorry for your loss and to
say goodbye.

13. Allow the child to bring along a favorite stuffed animal for comfort.

14. If you are a close relation to the deceased and will be busy greeting mourners, arrange to have a family friend watch
over your child. This person should feel comfortable explaining what is going on and be able to leave the room with
the child if he/she needs a break.

15. Tell the child how the day will go and what will happen in the next few days.

16. Let the child know how others will act at the funeral. They are sad, so they might cry. Some people act like they don’t
care as their way of covering up their true feelings. People sometimes say strange things because they do not
know what to say. Some people have different religious beliefs and may mention these.

17. Answer your child’s questions as they arise with simple and honest answers.
Do not allow time for their imaginations to run wild.

18. Be sure to go back over the “biology” of death.

19. Remember it is hard for a child to separate soul and body. Share your beliefs
with the child.

20. Ask your clergyman/woman for help with spiritual questions.

21. Children commonly have fears about losing a parent, especially if one of
the parents has already died or abandoned them. Do not say, “Nothing will
ever happen to me.” Explain to the child that chances are small that anything
will happen to you. Assure your child that most parents live to see their
children grow up and have children of their own.

22. After a death, children may have fears about what would happen to them if
their parent or caregivers died. Let the child know who has been designated
to care for them in your will. If you do not have a will, write one to ensure their
peace of mind and yours.

23. Give your child something that belonged to their loved one. This can provide a
very important connection to the deceased.

24. Give the child permission to cry, grieve, express feelings like anger or guilt or
ask questions.

25. Share your emotions with the child. “It is OK for me to cry.” Share with them
if you are very sad, lonely, relieved, etc. DO NOT SAY, “Be brave,” or “Don’t
cry.” Allow emotions.

26. Remember that, as a primary caregiver, you are the child’s role model. By your
own actions, you are teaching your child how to grieve, cope with loss, and
work through the healing process.