With November 15th being Children’s Grief Awareness Day, we wanted to share some ways to involve youth in funerals. Being involved in the funeral rituals can help them cope with grief and better understand death.
Your funeral home’s staff can help parents and their children cope with their loss. Through finding ways to involve children in the funeral and providing resources, you can make a positive difference in their grief journey.
A Child’s Understanding of Death
Children don’t fully understand the permanence of death until around age nine. In one of this year’s NFDA Convention workshops, Carrie Bauer broke down three components of a child’s understanding of death. The first component is nonfunctionality, which means they understand that the body stopped working. The second component is irreversibility, meaning that death is permanent. The last component is understanding that everyone will die someday.
A child’s reaction to grief is unique to the individual and may depend on their age and understanding of death. It can affect them physically, emotionally, psychologically, behaviorally, and spiritually. However, these are a few common reactions that children who have experienced a loss may have:
- Separation anxiety
- Loss of appetite and concentration
- Withdrawal from friends and activities
- Drop in school performance
Bauer also explained the importance of considering your wording when explaining death to a child. For example, telling a child that “we lost your uncle” may be confusing to them. They may not understand that he died and the permanence behind it. What you say may depend on the child’s age and the specific circumstances, so use your best judgment.
Inclusion in the Funeral Rituals
Bauer’s NFDA workshop also discussed how participating in the funeral rituals can help children grieve and better understand death. By including children in the funeral, the child’s family can start their grief journey together as a family. They should ask their child if they want to participate and understand that their answer may change.
Some creative ways children can be involved in funeral planning and the funeral service are:
- Finding photos to include in their loved one’s Tribute Video.
- Choosing special readings, songs, prayers, poems, or quotes to include in the funeral service. They also could read a poem or perform a song during the funeral service.
- Writing or drawing something to put inside the casket.
- Decorating memorial displays about their loved one with photos, stickers, and other decorations. They also can help set up the memorial displays for the visitation.
- Sharing memories of their loved one with funeral guests or writing them down to put inside a memory box.
- Greeting those who arrive at the funeral visitation and telling them where the funeral register book is.
Provide Educational Grief Resources
Your funeral home’s staff can provide families with educational grief resources for children. There are many books, articles, games, and other children’s grief resources out there, such as:
- Grief-related games like the Apart of Me digital children’s grief game that helps families talk about death
- Have the Talk of a Lifetime cards for children
- Children’s grief books, such as ones by Alan Wolfelt
- Frazer blog posts about children and grief, such as these:
A few beneficial organizations with children grief resources are:
- What’s Your Grief — Kids and Teens
- Funeral Service Foundation — Youth and Funerals
- Hospice Foundation of America — Children & Grief
- The National Alliance of Grieving Children
How Your Funeral Home Can Help
First off, your funeral home can provide educational grief resources, like the ones we mentioned above. You also can host seminars or webinars about coping with grief, and you can even start planning an event for next year’s Children’s Grief Awareness Day.
You also can provide parents with some general tips for helping their children grieve — such as encouraging questions, offering love and reassurance, helping them memorialize their loved one, and seeking professional help if needed. Make sure that parents don’t neglect their own grief needs, as well.
Before the funeral, you can help guide families in what to say to their children about death and the funeral. Their parents and/or funeral directors should explain to them what will happen at the funeral and what they will see. Your staff can help make children feel more comfortable at the funeral by creating a comforting space for them to go. You can include comfy furniture, toys, books, and grief resources. Your funeral home’s therapy pup could stop by to comfort them too.
Is your funeral home hosting any events related to Children’s Grief Awareness Day? Share them with us in the comments!