Dear “Ask the Director”:
I was wondering how old a child has to be before it is appropriate for them to attend funeral services for a family member; including the wake with viewing. My daughter is 8 years old and my concern is that she won’t understand the reality and meaning of the event.
Rosa V., Stamford, CT
Thank you for the excellent question. In an effort to safeguard their children emotionally, I would think that this is a question that’s pertinent to the majority of parents of young children.
Understand that children grieve just as adults do. Any child old enough to form a special relationship will experience some form of grief when a relationship is severed. When a death occurs, children need to be surrounded by feelings of warmth and love. Caring adults can guide children through this time when the child is experiencing feelings for which they have no words and thus can not identify. In a very real way, this time can be a growth experience for the child, teaching about love and relationships and life and death.
At each step of the funeral rite and at the appropriate comprehension level, explain to your daughter what is happening and why it is happening. What a 3 year old understands is much different than what a 12 year old understands. The key is to allow the participation, not to force it. Forced participation can be harmful. Children instinctively have a good sense of how involved they wish to be.
Whether or not the child should attend the funeral should be up to them. Take into consideration their age and how well you feel they will be able to handle the situation. Take the time to explain to them what has happened and let them help make the decision on whether or not they want to attend.
I hope that helps. Thanks again for your question.