It’s a parent’s natural inclination to protect his or her child from being hurt, and there are few pains like the loss of a loved one. But death is an inevitable part of life, and it’s important for parents to teach their children how to cope with grief.
Many parents are hesitant to allow children to attend funerals. However, we have found in our work with Milwaukee-area families that allowing them the opportunity to remember and say a proper goodbye can help them process their feelings. Attending a funeral can also help a child develop a realistic, healthy view of death. It will be a teaching moment – where you can show by example how to face sorrow and loss in life with dignity, honesty, and strength.
So how do you talk to children about their loss and what they will experience at the funeral service?
- When explaining the death, use simple, direct language that’s easy for them to understand. Avoid phrases like “sleeping,” “passed away,” or “lost.”
- If the loss impacts their day-to-day life – such as who transports them to and from school, or if you need to leave town for any reason, be sure they are informed.
- Don’t be afraid to show your own emotions, and let them know it’s okay for them to express whatever it is they’re feeling. If they’re not overly emotional, don’t worry – every child expresses grief differently.
- Encourage them to ask you questions, and let them know you’re always there for them. Don’t be afraid to answer questions with “I don’t know the answer, but I’ll try to find out for you.”
- Make sure your child knows and understands he or she is in no way responsible for the death.
- Explain to your child what he or she can expect, feel, and see at the funeral service. Let your child know it’s okay to show emotion at the funeral as well.
- If the child is older, you might want to share some common funeral etiquette information, so there is no awkwardness. If we can help with this at all, we hope you will let us know.
For children, diversions can also be important. After talking and listening, even if you don’t feel up to it, try to make time for fun activities like cooking together, arts and crafts, or playtime in the park.
Most of all, remember you cannot help your child until you help yourself. If the loss has greatly impacted your own life as well, be sure to practice self-care and reach out for professional help, if you need it. Our website is a great source for grief resources, and
our compassionate team is always here if you need help connecting with a counselor or local support group.