Ok, here’s a big question for parents – should your child attend the funeral of a family member, friend, classmate, or neighbor? Maybe we should begin with why we have funerals. Funerals are a ceremony, a ritual that serves important functions. It is an occasion to celebrate the life of a deceased person and acknowledge the reality of his or her death. Funerals are a step in the mourning process.
Let’s be honest. Funerals are difficult for adults and that impacts our feelings about children’s attendance. Whether you should take your child to a funeral depends on the child and the situation. If your child is old enough and wants to go, then being included can be helpful. And depending on who died, it may be important for you to have your child present.
The big issue is preparation. Explain to your child what will happen at the funeral. This includes visitation (if attending) plus before, during, and after the funeral. Talk about the setting, music, flowers, service, casket. Let your child know people will be sad and some may cry, including yourself. If you have spiritual or religious beliefs, share how death is perceived. Depending on your own relationship with the deceased, you may want to have another family member or friend be with your child. Above all, don’t leave a child to experience the events alone.
I found that taking a child to the funeral home ahead of the visitation or service is a good step. Then the child can look and ask questions. This will help both of you find comfort and meaning. Likewise, a trip to the cemetery ahead of time can relieve fears. A funeral and burial is NOT a time for surprises. Don’t assume that once the funeral is over that’s it. Set aside some quiet time to hold your child, talk about the experience, and provide a feeling of safety and comfort.
As Donna and I pondered the topic this month, we wanted to make sure that we talked about the fact that many things die. Animals. People. Plants. Flowers. Bugs. Fish. All living things die. The most important thing when talking about the topic of death is to remember the child’s age. The age of the child is what guides your conversation. Here are a couple of age related guidelines directly from the extension.org article “Loss and Grief: Talking with Children”.
- Infants. Children under a year old seem to have very little awareness of death, but do experience feelings of loss and separation. Infants might show similar signs of stress as an older child or adult who is coping with loss: crankiness, eating disturbance, altered sleep patterns, or intestinal disturbances.
- Toddlers. Children between the ages of one and three generally view death as temporary. That’s why it’s very important to state simply and directly that the person has died and to explain what that means.
- Young children. Children between the ages of three and six might believe their thoughts, feelings or actions can cause death. Feelings of responsibility and guilt can arise. It’s important to tell children what caused the death and be attuned to any sense of responsibility the child might convey.
- Older children. School aged children begin to develop a more mature understanding of death, seeing it as both inevitable and irreversible.
- Teenagers. Teenagers are going through many changes and life in general can be very challenging. During a time of loss and mourning, let your teenager know that you’re there for her/him. Be present while also allowing space and privacy. Respect your teenager’s feelings, listen well, and let them teach you about their grief and how you can help.
To view the whole article : Loss and Grief: Talking with Children
How have you talked with children about the loss of living things and people? Share your conversations with your children about loss and death here.
Additional resource for talking with children about death are below:
Like many kids, I grew up with pets. There were hamsters and turtles and fish and cats and dogs and chickens. Yes, chickens – remember I was a farm kid. So I tried to remember what it felt like when the pets died. I have vivid memories of some pets like my dog Boo and others not so much.
When a pet dies, the amount of information or what you say, depends on the child’s age, experiences, and maturity level. Offer your child a clear and simple explanation. Let your child’s questions guide the details you reveal.
Tell the truth. Use the actual words “death,” “dying,” or “died.” Be sure your child understands the pet’s body stopped working; it died; and will not be coming back. Do not say Baxter ran away when he really crawled in the garage and died. Do not say Penelope went to sleep and won’t wake up. Children take literally what you say and false statements will confuse them. Eventually your child will figure out you lied and that starts to complicate trust issues.
Sometimes there is a chance to say goodbye and if a child able to do so, that can be helpful. The family may want to observe the pet’s death in a special way. I remember wrapping pets in cloth, putting them in shoe boxes, and burying them in a special place. Every pet, no matter type or size, always got a burial ceremony. We talked about our pets, remembering the funny stories and antics.
And here’s one last tip. Don’t immediately get another pet. We don’t want children to think pets and people are replaceable. Wait until your child asks to get a new kitten. Then you can talk about how welcoming a new furry friend into your home is a way to honor the life of the pet that died.
Do you have a memory of a pet that died? How did your parents handle the situation? What have been your experiences with your own child?
Many of us have been a part of the ritual – a small box is buried under the shade tree in the back yard. This becomes the final place for our beloved canary or hamster. As parents we don’t like to think about the demise of these special members of our family, but death is a very real part of having a pet.
Pets have significantly shorter lifespans than people but some will be companions for a considerable number of years. So how do you help your child when a pet dies? A child’s reaction is tied to her age and development, previous experiences with death, as well as the intensity of attachment to the pet. Check out http://aplb.org/services/children.html for detailed information on the reactions of children at various ages. This is a link from The Associaton for Pet Loss and Bereavement.
As parents you can help your child honor and remember his pet in appropriate ways. Displaying photos, drawing pictures, telling stories, or holding a ceremony are possibilities.
Our family buried special dogs under the trees in the pasture where we imagined them running free. And I’ll admit to having a small urn in the closet containing my beagle’s ashes. Just the mention of Pearl’s name makes us all smile.
So how have you handled the death of pets in your family?
Horror – disbelief – anger – grief – sadness
People across this country and around the world experienced a wide range of emotion as news emerged of the indescribable tragedy in Connecticut. I, like many of you, reacted on many levels. I’m a mother, grandmother, and family life educator. I’ve spent a career working with families. I know personally the pain of sudden loss of life in my own family.
During the weeks and months ahead we will hear much about what causes these acts of violence and what should be done to prevent more. School safety systems, gun control, and mental health services will be hot topics of discussion. Politicians, law enforcement personnel, faith community leaders, and school administrators will attempt to define the problems and strategize solutions. Each of us has the opportunity and responsibility to weigh in on these important issues.
However, here in this blog, I want to focus on our roles as parents and grandparents. I want to bring the conversation into your home. Here is where we impact our children. As engaged parents, we must “be there” for our children. We use love and limits; we monitor their activities and whereabouts; we give them hope and aspirations for their future; we seek help when their needs surpass our abilities. We give soulful consideration to how we address violence – our language; interactions with others; choice of television shows, movies, games. And in doing so, we become part of the solution.
You will find many people offering ideas on how to help children. Let me suggest a few resources. Loss and grief- talking with children is an extension resource found at: http://www.extension.org/pages/9044/loss-and-grief-talking-with-children
Also check out these readings.
I would close my thoughts with the wish that you make your home a safe place. When everything and everywhere else seems scary, children need to know the comfort of a loving home. How are you providing comfort for your family in the aftermath of this recent tragedy?