It used to be that we kept children away from funerals and did not talk to them about what was happening around them. Today, we know that children grieve when they experience loss, and they will experience that loss and grief in a wide variety of ways, just as adults do.
Children need to have their questions answered, in a way that they can understand. Be sensitive to their age , in the language they use and can understand, and without lies. Use concrete words, such as "died" or "killed", rather than "passed away" or "lost his wife". The latter implies that his wife will return or needs to be found.
Children can often cope better with a situation if they have choices and are allowed to express their opinions. They may have a view about how they want to say goodbye to a loved one who has died, and may want to participate in the funeral is some way.
Remembering the person (or pet) who has died is a part of the healing process. Talking about the deceased with fond memories can give a child permission to share their feelings about the situation. Children also often like to retain keepsakes which hold an emotional attachment, and can help them to remember and feel closer to the person who has died.
Everyone grieves in their own way, so respecting the differences is important. Listening to the children, and respecting their feelings and what they have to say helps to reinforce that the child's grief is legitimate and helps them to heal. Using open ended questions to help them to talk, rather than telling them that you know how they feel or to get over it.
Children may surprise you by taking a break from their grief to play or have fun. This is normal and is not disrespectful. It is just part of being human.
For additional information on child grief, see
Also, visit our bookstore for books on child grief.