Guide to Children at Funerals: Common Questions Answered

A mother comforting her son at a military funeral

It can be difficult to decide if it's appropriate and in the best interest of your child to allow them to attend an upcoming funeral. Take your time considering the decision to allow your child or children to attend a funeral.

Children at Funerals

When considering whether to allow your child to attend an upcoming funeral, there are several factors to keep in mind. These include:

  • Your child's level of maturity
  • The type of funeral and the length of the service
  • If you'll have someone else there to help you if you need it
  • You and your child's level of closeness with the deceased individual

Should Children Attend Funerals?

Having your child attend a funeral is a personal decision that only you can make. You know your child best, and it's your job to assist them in processing what the funeral will entail so they can let you know what they are comfortable with. Keep in mind that whether they attend the funeral or not, they will still need to process their loss appropriately. Avoiding the subject of death or preventing them from attending a funeral they would like to go to will not stop their feelings of grief and their need to process what happened.

Is It Appropriate to Bring a Child to a Funeral?

It is absolutely appropriate to bring a child to a funeral if:

  • They are generally calm infants or will be napping during the service
  • If you are prepared to miss out on any large or small aspect of the service depending on your child's needs
  • If you are ready to excuse yourself at any point during the service to calm down or tend to your child outside so you aren't being disruptive
  • If the child was close to the deceased individual and notes that they would like to attend
  • If you've prepared your child appropriately for what the service will entail and know what they are and aren't comfortable with

What Age Is Appropriate for a Child to Attend a Funeral?

Children can attend a funeral at any age if you feel comfortable taking them and/or they note that they would like to attend with you. Between the ages of four and seven, children begin to grasp the finality of death and may find the funeral service to be an important aspect of processing their loss.

Brother and sister at a funeral

Should a 6-Year-Old Go to a Funeral?

A six-year-old can attend a funeral if they communicate that they'd like to go and/or you feel it's appropriate and important that they attend due to the family's level of closeness with the deceased individual. At six years old, your child likely understands the concept of death and the finality of it, so be sure to fully prepare them for the funeral prior to going and help them process their experience after attending it.

Should a 4-Year-Old Go to a Funeral?

A four-year-old can go to a funeral if they express interest in attending and/or you believe it's important for them to attend based on the relationship with the deceased individual. Keep in mind that some four-year-olds may not yet grasp the concept of death, so be patient when explaining death and the funeral service to them. Also be mindful that at four years old, they may not be able to sit through a service that is longer than 30 minutes so be sure to bring some quiet activities for them to do, and/or know that they may need to head outside for a few breaks.

How to Explain a Funeral to a 4-Year-Old

With little ones, it's best to keep the explanation of the funeral on the simple side so you don't overwhelm them. You can say:

  • A funeral is a special time for all of us to say goodbye to (insert deceased individual's name).
  • At a funeral, our friends and family come together to talk about how much we love (insert deceased individual's name).

If your child would like to attend, you can further explain what the funeral service entails, so they feel prepared.

Which Parts of a Funeral Are Appropriate for Children?

What you deem appropriate will depend on your child, their age, and their maturity level. It's important if you have young children (under the age of 10) to be realistic in terms of your expectations of them during the funeral service. They may not be able to sit through the entire service and may need to take breaks often, and that's okay. Any part of the funeral may or may not be appropriate depending on your child, which is why it's so important to discuss what they are comfortable with beforehand. Be sure to explain:

  • Exactly what will happen and in what order
  • What they may see
  • What people may say to them
  • That they can at any point take a break when needed and can come to you for support

Should a Child View an Open Casket?

Viewing an open casket may be confusing or disturbing for some children, while for others it may bring comfort to see their deceased loved one looking peaceful.

  • Infants and one-year-olds will not consciously remember if they see an open casket.
  • Two to four-year-old children may believe the deceased individual is sleeping.
  • Four-year-olds and up will likely understand that they are looking at a deceased individual which they may or may not find disturbing or comforting.

If your child is around four years old and older, it's important to discuss what an open casket is and to see if they feel comfortable seeing it themselves. If they are not comfortable with seeing an open casket, it's important to be supportive of their decision.

Should a Child Attend a Parent's Funeral?

The decision to allow a child to attend a parent's funeral is extremely personal and will depend on your specific circumstances. A child may attend a parent's funeral if:

  • They communicate that they would like to go and understand what the service entails.
  • They communicate to another parent or caregiver what they are and aren't comfortable with (viewing, speaking at the service, etc.)
  • They understand that they have a supportive adult with them who will accompany them on breaks during the service if needed.
  • They are an infant or young child and do not understand the concept of losing a parent, but the surviving family feels it is important for them to attend- their caretaker has appropriate expectations for a child or infant of this age attending a serious event and is prepared to leave the service at any point to give the little one a break.

For children who do understand the concept of death, attending a parent's funeral may help in providing some semblance of closure while surrounded by supportive family and friends.

Tips for Attending a Funeral With Your Child

If you do opt to attend a funeral with your child:

  • Make sure you have snacks and water for little ones who accompany you to the funeral.
  • Bring a quiet toy or book for young children in case they need a break from the service.
  • Bring a lovey for little ones to provide extra comfort.
  • If you are bringing an infant or toddler and are nursing, bring an extra blanket as the funeral service venue will likely be chilly.
  • Sit at the end of a row so you and your child can exit the service venue quickly to avoid disrupting the service.
  • Remind your child that you are there for them and provide support if they become upset at any point.
  • Ask your child if they need to take a break if they seem overly distraught or disturbed.
  • Process the funeral afterwards with your child and let them know that you love them and can answer any questions that they may have.

As a parent, it can be difficult to process your loss and tend to your child at the same time. Give yourself grace and know that what you are doing is extremely difficult. Be sure to make time to process your feelings when you aren't with your little one and make sure you have the support that you need.

Sad little boy kneeling beside an open casket at a funeral

Should Children Go to Funerals?

Children can attend funerals if you feel it is appropriate for them to do so and/or they tell you that they'd like to attend. Be sure you are fully prepared for several potential scenarios during the service (meltdowns, diaper changes, potty breaks, boredom, etc.) and make sure your child understands and is comfortable with the various aspects of the service.

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Guide to Children at Funerals: Common Questions Answered