Participation in grief rituals

Should children take part in funerals or other post-death rituals?

One of the most pertinent questions often asked is whether or not children should participate in mourning rituals – for example attending the funeral of someone close to them. There have been many discussions and debates about this and hence many untruths that have evolved around this question.

Hover over each of the flip boxes below to reveal the truth relevant to each myth.

Myth

Children should not be permitted to take part in funerals and death rituals.

Truth

Children can benefit by helping to participate in planning in meaningful ways and by attending funerals, including allowing them opportunities for questions and learning from the emotional reactions of adults.

Myth

Children's participation in death rituals should be limited

Truth

Children will benefit from being allowed to participate as much as they are interested and willing in any meaningful rituals and ceremonies aimed at saying goodbye to a loved one.

Myth

Children should be protected from seeing strong emotional reactions.

Truth

Children can usually cope with experiencing the strong emotions of others as long as they have the support of calm and supportive adults to interpret the experience for them and answer their questions.

Myth

Adults always know better whether to allow a child to participate in rituals after death.

Truth

Difficulties arise either from either forcing children to participate against their will or from excluding those wishing to be included. Be led by the child.

“Funerals are not adult activities.
They are human activities.”

 Joe Primo, Good Grief CEO

Encouraging the child’s participation

It is very important that children be allowed to participate in grief rituals. Participation assists in developing good coping skills as well as uncomplicated grief patterns. Children viewing the body and attending the funeral should be encouraged. This assists with closure and also with the understanding that death is permanent.

This picture of the viewing of her uncle who had died was drawn by 7-year-old Eliza.

Alternative rituals for children

If the child chooses not to attend a funeral, alternative ways to assist them to say their final goodbye can be explored. These could include:

  • A memorial at home with specially chosen songs, music, drawings, and familiar objects that belonged to the deceased.

  • Visiting a place with special memories and talking about these memories.

  • Creating a special place of their own choosing where they can remember the deceased.

  • Memorial candles at family events symbolising absent friends and family.

  • Starting a memory box or other form of memory work.