What to Know About Bringing Children to a Funeral

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If you’re a parent planning on attending a funeral or a memorial service, you might be wondering whether or not you should bring your children with you. The truth is that there’s no one-size-fits all answer to this question. Every family is different, and what makes sense for one child may not be right for another.

There’s no easy etiquette answer either, says Elaine Swann, an etiquette expert and founder of the Swann School of Protocol in Carlsbad, California. “I think depending on how well they can handle the funeral, and how well you as a parent can explain what’s taking place, that’s how you should determine if it’s okay to bring them,” she says.

Here, a few questions to consider as you’re deciding whether or not your child should attend a funeral with you.

How close was your child to the person who died?

The relationship your child had with the person who died is obviously important to think about, says Jacqueline Whitmore, an etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach. But she notes that “it’s a personal choice.” If your child is willing and comfortable attending, they may find that the experience helps them say goodbye to their loved one.

On the other hand, if your child didn’t know the deceased very well (maybe they were your co-worker’s parent, or a distant relative you didn’t see often), it may be fine for them to stay home.

To help your child prepare, you might consider calling the funeral home beforehand and asking about resources they have for children. Some funeral homes have grief materials that are appropriate for different ages and can help children process their grief, says Ellen McBrayer, a funeral director at Jones-Wynn Funeral Homes and Crematory in Villa Rica, Georgia.

For example, McBrayer and her staff organize what they call “bear ceremonies” for children who have lost a grandparent or parent. They give the child who is grieving two identical stuffed bears, one that they keep and another they can choose to place in the deceased’s casket. McBrayer explains that she’ll then tell the child that when they miss their loved one, they can whisper in the stuffed animal’s ear. “This way, the child can make a connection to that death in a way that provides healing.”

How old is your child?

Age is another factor to consider. Of course, there’s no way to explain to a crying newborn that a funeral is a solemn occasion. That doesn’t mean you have to leave your infant or young child at home, but Swann does recommend staying towards the exit or back of the room if they do come with you. “This way, if the child does become fussy, you can slide out quickly without making a big disruption,” she says. Most people understand that babies cry sometimes, but a prolonged disturbance that makes it difficult for guests to hear the sermon or eulogy would be disrespectful.

On the other hand, it’s easier to explain what’s going on to slightly older children, such as those who are elementary-school aged or in middle school. “If you feel as though they can handle the information you’ve shared about what’s taking place, by all means bring them,” Swann says.

One caveat: It’s important to have that conversation before you’re sitting at the funeral. “Talk to your children in advance so this way during the service itself, they’re not asking questions and wondering what’s going on, so they have somewhat of an understanding of what’s happening,” she adds.

Of course, even if you do have a conversation about death with your child at home, it’s entirely possible that they’ll will still have questionsfunerals can be emotional and overwhelming, even for adults. Gently let them know that you’ll answer any other questions he or she has once you’re back at home.

Can they occupy themselves quietly?

Perhaps more important than the child’s age is whether or not they’re at a stage where they can quietly entertain themselves for a prolonged period of time, experts say.

“For younger children especially who have shorter attention spans, I would say, know your child,” says McBrayer. And if you decide to bring them, “it’s important to have something for them to do so they don’t become a distraction.”

It’s a good idea to pack a kit for your child with quiet activities they can do to keep themselves busyWhitmore recommends books to read or coloring books and crayons. Although smartphones and tablets are a go-to distraction tactic for modern parents, they may not be appropriate depending on the funeral location. At a church service, for example, electronic noises and vibrations can disturb other guests. If your child is sitting in a bigger funeral home, however, tablets that are turned on silent mode may be okay, says McBrayer, especially if the funeral home has a dedicated playroom for children.

If you know that you will need to be actively involved in the funeral or part of the ceremony, you might consider hiring a babysitter to come with you and your child, if it’s within your means to do so. A sitter can help keep your child entertained when you’re preoccupied and can also bring him or her home if needed.

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