children and funerals
What should children know about death?
When someone dies that a child has known, especially someone who has been loved by him, the child should be told of that death by a person close to him. Help him to sort out the real from the pretend. It is wrong to say that “Grandpa is on a trip,” or “Mother is living in the hospital.” Children must be told the truth. Deceptive parents diminish the trust children place in their father and mother.
Children react to traumatic situations with such emotional overtones as disbelief, bodily distress, anger, guilt, anxiety and panic . . . just as adults do. Children often act out their feelings in ways that do not seem appropriate to an adult. But the child may not be able to say what he feels with words so he must depend on body language and behavior to vent his feelings. Adults should be perceptive and understanding of what this behavior really means. Even so-called delinquent conduct may well be an acting out of grief, an expression of life’s injustice, the child’s insecurity or of the confusion that often accompanies the fearful events in life.
Don’t be afraid of causing tears. They are like a safety valve. So often parents and friends deliberately attempt to steer the conversation away from the deceased. They are apprehensive of the tears that might start to flow. They do not understand that expressing grief through tears is not only natural and normal, it is also therapeutic. Tears are the tender tribute of yearning affection for those who have died, but can never be forgotten. The child should not repress them.
Should a child attend the funeral?
Parents often intend it as a kindness when they shield the child from the funeral. They mistakenly believe it is for the child’s good to send him away with a friend or relative until after the funeral. Yet, recognized child authorities have come to agree that not only is it good to permit a child to attend a funeral, but, from approximately the age of four, a child should be encouraged to attend if he or she so desires. Attendance should be urged at an even earlier age if the child has gone to church services or has been at other public gatherings.
A child is an integral part of the family unit and should be included in every significant occasion. Though sad, the funeral is a sharing community process and a crucial occurrence in the life of every family.