There’s no single rule about whether children can attend funerals. Usually, it’s up to you as a parent whether you’d like your child to go.
Here are some things to think about to help you decide.
Should I take my child to a funeral?
There are lots of things to think about when you’re deciding if your child should go to a funeral. This includes thinking about different people’s feelings and needs – including your own and your child’s.
Are children allowed to attend the funeral?
It’s usually a good idea to ask the person organising the funeral if children can attend. Sometimes people will ask that children don’t go to a funeral – particularly if it’s a very formal ceremony. Or if they’re worried that children will find it too upsetting.
Does your child want to go to the funeral?
Are you able to give your child a choice about if they go to the funeral? To help them decide, explain what they’re likely to see at the funeral and be ready to answer their questions. Having the choice could be an important part of the grieving process for them.
For some children, especially older ones, going to the funeral of a loved one can help them to grieve. Not being allowed to go could mean they feel left out of an important event.
Will you feel comfortable if your child is at the funeral?
Think about your needs. You may find it difficult to take part in a funeral with your child there. Remember, it’s okay for your child to see you upset. But it’s okay if you need space to grieve too.
Is my child too young to go to a funeral?
There’s no minimum age for a child to attend a funeral. It’s up to you whether you think they’re old enough to understand the service and take part. You might also want to think about how formal the funeral will be – will other mourners be okay if your child isn’t able to sit quietly throughout the service? You can always check with the person organising the funeral before you decide what to do.
Can I take my child to a religious funeral?
Most faiths allow children to go to funerals. For example, Buddhism, Christianity, Catholicism, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism all say that children of any age can attend a funeral service.
It’s a good idea to make children aware of any rules they’ll need to follow at a faith funeral. For example, receiving a blessing or taking part in prayers.
If you decide to take your child to the funeral
Here are some things to think about if you decide to take your child to the funeral.
Explain what will happen and what they need to do
If this is the first time your child has been to a funeral, it’s a good idea to let them know what to expect. Here are some things you could talk about:
- Tell them what will happen on the day and the places you’ll visit as part of the service. For example, the church or temple, the crematorium or burial ground.
- Look at and explain any special clothes they might see others wearing For example, what the funeral director will wear or that everyone will be in black. (You can learn more about funeral clothes here.)
- Consider listening to music that’s similar to the music they might hear at the funeral.
- Talk about any objects they might see. For example, flowers, religious symbols or scents such as incense. Explain why they’re there and why they’re important for the funeral.
- If you’re going to a funeral where there will be an open casket explain what that is and whether your child can or can’t look inside.
- If your child’s old enough you could talk to them about ways they can join in with the service. For example, singing songs, reading prayers or doing a reading.
- Explain any rules. For example, keeping quiet or standing up at certain points during the service.
Are children allowed time off school to go to a funeral?
In England, it’s up to the child’s head teacher whether they’re allowed to have an extra day off. This is known as an authorised absence. Each school has its own policy about absences which you should be able to get from their website or the school office. You’ll usually need to fill in a form to ask for the day off.
Sometimes an absence can be authorised after the funeral. For example, an Islamic funeral happens very quickly and there may not be time to ask for a day off before it takes place.
If the school doesn’t agree to your child having a day off for the funeral, you can appeal against their decision. If you decide to take your child to the funeral anyway, it’s usually counted as an unauthorised absence.
If your child doesn’t go to the funeral
If your child doesn’t go to the funeral, there are still lots of ways you can help them to celebrate a loved one’s life. Here are some things you could do together to help your child with the grieving process:
- Create a memory book. Add pictures, photographs, items that remind them of the person who has died. The book can be added to over time and looked at whenever they want. This can help children come to terms with a death at their own pace.
- Say prayers or share memories. Saying a prayer together or talking about the person who has died can be a safe way for a child to share their feelings. If your child isn’t ready to speak you could hold a prayer pebble or object together and just think about the person.
- Floating lanterns or balloons. Watching these float away can help children to say goodbye. You could share some memories before letting go. If you’re using a lit lantern, make sure you’ve checked the rules in your area about using it safely.
- Singing songs or listening to music. Listening to their favourite songs can be a great way to celebrate and remember a person who has died.
- Reading books. There are lots of child-friendly books that deal with death and loss. These books can help children to understand and accept what has happened.
Helping your child with their grief
Not sure what to say or how to help your child with their grief? It’s perfectly normal not to know what to say or do – especially if you’re grieving too. There are several UK charities that support children who are grieving. Grief Encounter provides 1-to-1 support to children, as well as providing training and resources to parents, carers and teachers.
You can find more bereavement charities for children on this list.
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