Funerals and Children
Preparing children for a funeral
Experiencing the death of a loved one, and being exposed to the funeral process, can be frightening and confusing experiences for a child. One thing that many parents forget is that their young children may not understand what a funeral is, why it's necessary or what will be happening. Particularly in the case of young children, it may be their first encounter with death and they may have many questions. The best way to approach the topic is with honesty.
Answer Questions Specifically
Quite often, children are only curious about one thing. They almost certainly don't want to know all the details of embalming or what happens to a body as it decomposes. Discuss these topics only if your child specifically asks. Surprisingly (and generally detrimentally), some parents will tell their children everything about death and inadvertently traumatize the child. If your child asks, "What is the casket made of?", answer "wood", and wait to see if they have any more questions. Chances are they may not.
Let Children Say What They Want
Don't overreact to children's misperceptions about death. If a child were to say, "Grandpa will come back in three days, right?", don't ever reproach the child for their mistaken understanding. Such a question may require you to carefully find out what they're really thinking.
If you get to the bottom of the question, you may find that the child really only wishes that grandpa would come back to life. In this case, you might tell the child that you'll miss grandpa too, but you both have to get used to the idea that he's no longer there.
In other cases, the child may feel some form of irrational guilt. For example, they may say something like, "Grandpa died because we didn't visit him enough." Let them express this, then carefully and with certainty explain that there's no reason to feel this way, and that death is natural and there isn't always a reason or an external cause behind it.
Children and Burial
Children may not be able to deal with the burial. Before you bring a child to a burial, be sure they know what they're going to see. Explain it step by step and stop to ask them if they have any questions. If they raise objections, they may not be ready. You shouldn't force a child to attend a funeral if they strongly protest. It's possible that they'll regret missing it when they get older, but it's also possible that they know better what they're prepared for; you shouldn't push the issue too ardently.
You may find that your child wants to be involved in the funeral. It may help the child understand the loss of a loved one more clearly if they can participate in the process. If there are a lot of children involved, you might want to hold a special kids' ceremony that is shorter and easier to understand. Many kids just want to be included in the funeral in order to say goodbye to a loved one.