“How to Prepare Kids for Attending a Funeral “

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funeralWhen a close friend or family member dies, the ceremony celebrating their life and allowing the loved ones left behind to grieve can be a therapeutic experience in the minds of adults.

For children, however, the funeral ceremony and visitation can be a scary and upsetting experience that makes dealing with the death of someone they care about even more traumatic.

Making sure that your children are properly prepared for a funeral is one of the most important things you can do for them after a loved one passes on, but it can be a tricky task.

Know the Difference Between Encouragement and Pressure

The fundamental belief that attendance at a funeral is both therapeutic and compulsory can cause many parents to believe that requiring a child to attend is the best course of action, even if they clearly express a reluctance to do so. Making sure that you understand the difference between encouraging your child to attend a memorial service for closure and putting them under overwhelming pressure to make an appearance is one of the most important things you can do for them. Depending on your child’s age, how close he was to the deceased and how you expect to react when you’re faced with such a final goodbye, you may actually want to consider allowing them to sit this one out.

Talk About What to Expect

If you’re confident that your child is emotionally mature enough to understand the implications of a funeral service and he’s made the conscious choice to attend with you because he wants to pay his last respects, not because he’s being pressured to attend, then you’ll want to have a frank discussion about what he can expect to see. If the ceremony will be an open viewing, you’ll need to talk about the fact that the deceased loved one will be visible. This is also a good time to let your child know that funerals are a time for grieving, so might see people crying or becoming very upset. It’s especially important to discuss your own grief, so that he’s not scared by a display of mourning from you.

Encourage Questions

Attending a funeral is never an enjoyable experience, but it can be downright terrifying for children. The scary nature of a memorial service is amplified when your child isn’t sure of what’s going to happen and feels confused by the proceedings. Make sure that you allow him plenty of time to ask whatever questions he needs to ask, and that you answer them as completely as possible. The more knowledge your child has about what a funeral is, what he can expect to see there and why funerals are held, the less likely he is to panic out of confusion. Be prepared for some indelicate or even impolite questions, as kids that have little to no real experience with the concept of death aren’t likely to understand it fully and may have unexpected curiosity regarding the subject.

Be Honest

Regardless of how difficult it may be, it’s best to be honest with your child when you’re explaining the concept of death, dying or what happens at a funeral. Using the belief system of your own religion can help kids come to grips with where people go after they die, a question that isn’t easily answered any other way. Resist the temptation to tell a small child that the decedent is “sleeping” or “resting”, however. The last thing you want is for your child to attempt to wake his loved one up or to associate sleeping with never waking up again.

Keep it Age-Appropriate

By the time they’re into the elementary or middle school years, kids understand what death is. Even if they have never attended a funeral or memorial service, they’ve almost certainly been exposed to the concept through television, books or movies. These kids may need to know a bit more about what to expect from the memorial service itself, and less existential conversation about the destination of departed souls than their younger siblings. Very small children that aren’t verbally advanced enough to grasp the basic concept of death or dying may not be ready to attend a funeral, so it’s smart to use your own judgment when determining whether or not the memorial service is a suitable place for them.

Your child should be reassured that it’s okay to feel sad or to cry at a funeral, and that he doesn’t have to hide his feelings or try to be strong. He needs to know before he arrives at the service that his feelings are valid and that it’s okay for him to express them. A lengthy discussion with your child will make it easier to determine whether or not he’s ready to attend a funeral and can help you figure out what he already knows about the subject.

Thanks to Maureen Denard

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