Funerals can be emotionally charged events. It’s hard enough to lose someone you love, but then you also have to plan and navigate a formal event that will be attended by your extended family and community members.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Is it Proper Etiquette to Bring Kids to a Funeral or Memorial Service?
- What Can You Do With Kids at a Funeral?
- What Should Children Wear to a Funeral?
- How Can Kids Pay Their Respects If They Can’t Attend or Aren’t Welcome at a Funeral?
- Frequently Asked Questions: Children at Funerals
You may wonder about funeral etiquette and whether it’s OK for children, toddlers, or infans to attend a funeral. This age-old question can be looked at from a variety of viewpoints.
Unfortunately, if you are looking for a “yes” or “no” answer, you’ve come to the wrong place. The best answer is that it depends.
Is it Proper Etiquette to Bring Kids to a Funeral or Memorial Service?
The Emily Post Institute website says, “Children should be encouraged to attend the ceremonies surrounding the death of a family member or close friend to whatever degree they feel comfortable.”
The text goes on to say that children learn about death from attending a funeral. They learn that death is a natural part of life and they also learn the conventions and religious practices that follow the death of a loved one in our society.
Many people may agree with the advice published by the Emily Post Institute but there are other things to consider.
Infants and non-walking toddlers
Infants and non-walking toddlers may make lots of noise during a funeral. Some people may hear these sounds and smile because they associate most of those noises with a sweet baby. Others may listen to those sounds and feel as if the child disrupted the service.
Most parents will take their crying babies to another part of the facility or outside. Unfortunately, some parents are not as aware that their babies are being disruptive and will try to comfort the child during the service.
If you feel that many of the attendees would not tolerate the sounds that your infant or toddler makes, you may consider getting a babysitter or not attending the funeral.
On the other hand, you may want to take your child but leave the service if she gets fussy and others can’t hear what’s being said during the service.
Toddlers and preschoolers or young school-age kids
Toddlers and preschoolers can be charming, but their need to be on the move may cause problems at funerals. A toddler may be easier to manage while seated at the actual service but the funeral visitation and time before and after the funeral may be more difficult since most kids have a difficult time standing still.
You may consider limiting the amount of time you spend at a visitation or before and after the service if you have a child in this age group.
One general guideline could be used to determine whether or not a child’s behavior at a funeral is OK or not. Will a child’s behavior make it difficult for people to hear or focus on the service? If so, you may consider removing the child from the room.
What Can You Do With Kids at a Funeral?
Sometimes you have no other choice than to bring your children to a funeral. Here are some tips to help you get through the service.
1. Explain what is happening before you attend
You may talk to your child about what to expect at a funeral if you think that your child could understand the conversation. Be prepared to answer a wide variety of questions about death. This may be an excellent time to introduce your child to your own beliefs about the end of life.
2. Discuss the kind of behavior you expect from the child before you attend
This may or may not help, but you can try to tell (and show images) of the type of behavior you expect from your child at a funeral. At the same time, you must realize that your child may not be developmentally able to meet your behavior expectations at that time.
This strategy may buy you a few minutes of quiet from your toddler, but you need a backup plan for the rest of the time you spend at the service.
3. Bring quiet things to distract your child
Consider bringing books, coloring pages, a small snack, or quiet toys to the service.
Again, these items may buy you minutes of calm but some toddlers need to change activities every few minutes. You may not have a bag big enough to hold enough distractions for a busy kiddo.
4. Have an exit strategy
It may be extremely difficult leaving the funeral for a parent or grandparent because of a fussy baby or overexcited toddler.
You might have to ask your spouse to take care of the children if the death was on your side of the family. You may also request that an extended member of the family exit with your children if they are not able to make it through the service.
What Should Children Wear to a Funeral?
Opinions vary on what constitutes appropriate funeral attire. The answer to this question depends on your region, religion, socioeconomic status, and how close you were to the deceased.
Generally, most etiquette websites state that people should wear dark-colored, formal clothing at funerals. However, don’t rush out and buy your children (especially infants, toddlers, and preschoolers) black dresses or suits for your great aunt’s funeral.
Instead, dress your infants and young children in comfortable outfits that aren’t distracting. Avoid bright colors and sparkles. If you choose a dressier outfit for your child, make sure the clothing isn’t itchy or uncomfortable. An uncomfortable child is a fussy child.
Of course, you might also want to remember to bring backup outfits for your baby and toddler. For that matter, if your child is prone to spitting up, you might bring a change of clothes for yourself as well.
As children age, some people might expect more formal funeral attire. However, this doesn’t mean you have to scour your local department store for a black suit or dress for your grade-schooler. Instead, ask your child to wear a modest outfit in a dark color. Direct your child away from shirts with words on them and discuss dressing for the occasion.
Even though we offer this advice on dressing children for a funeral, there are exceptions to every rule.
Most people would rather you attend a funeral in the best clothes you have available rather than skip it because “your kids don’t have the right clothes.” The family members of the deceased are mourning a lost loved one, so they probably could care less whether your nine-year-old is wearing tennis shoes with his dress pants instead of more formal shoes.
Also, funeral etiquette seems to be changing in some communities. For example, some families ask attendees to wear specific colors or something appropriate to “celebrate” the deceased’s life.
Finally, this may be your child’s first experience with death. Even if they weren’t close with the deceased, attending the funeral will cause them to think about their own eventual deaths (and the deaths of their loved ones).
With that said, you may consider whether or not it is an appropriate time to argue about clothing. Even a usually compliant child may fuss about things like clothes and food when encountering this “fact of life.”
Appropriate funeral dress for children is a matter of opinion. When it comes down to it, think about what is best for your child and your family when picking out clothes for the event.
How Can Kids Pay Their Respects if They Can’t Attend or Aren’t Welcome at a Funeral?
You may wonder if it is wrong not to attend the funeral of a loved one if you don’t feel comfortable bringing your kids. Unfortunately, we can’t answer that question, but you do have an obligation to help your children grieve whether you go to the services or not.
Here are some general tips to consider to help your kids pay their respects.
1. Ask your child to draw a picture of a favorite moment with a person who died
While your child is drawing, ask her to describe the memory. Talk about how special it was to have been able to experience that moment with the loved one. Ask about other memories she may have had of the individual.
2. Ask your child to describe what made that person special
Ask your child what they liked about the deceased. Depending on your child’s age, you may get answers such as “I liked that Grandpa gave me ice cream” or “I liked it when Grandma let me get the mail.”
3. Have them donate to the memorial fund
Even if you don’t think it is a good idea for your children to attend the funeral, you may ask if they would like to donate part of their money to the memorial fund for the deceased’s favorite charity. Explain that this is something that people do to honor a person who died.
4. Have a memorial service at home
If your child doesn’t attend the memorial service, consider having a shortened version of it at home. Reserve time for prayer, songs, and give your child a chance to say goodbye.
5. Create a photo album of the child with the deceased
Your child may spend a lot of time thinking about the person who died. You may consider gathering a small collection of photographs that will help your child reflect on happy memories.
6. Share your emotions with your child
Children need to understand that a wide variety of emotions follow someone’s death. When you describe a happy memory of your loved one with your child, you may smile. Explain this to your child.
When you feel sad and feel like crying about your loss, explain this to your child.
Sometimes kids don’t know how they are supposed to feel and behave because they are given mixed messages. Some people may tell them that they should be happy because their grandma is in heaven, but then at the same time, they see others who are sad, upset, or angry.
There is no timeline for grief for adults and children. Your child may seem fine with the loss one minute but may struggle weeks or months later.
Frequently Asked Questions: Children at Funerals
Everyone who has ever attended a funeral probably has an opinion on whether or not they are appropriate events for children. With that said, here are some thoughts about children at funerals we would like to offer.
Is it OK to bring a child to an open casket funeral?
Generally speaking, it is OK to bring a child to an open casket funeral. In fact, many would argue that it is a good idea to introduce the concept of death to your children at some point in their early lives.
However, most people would argue that if a child’s behavior is distracting enough to cause notice, they might need to be removed from the room.
While it would be nice to set forth a standard minimum age when it’s appropriate to take children to formal events, it’s not that easy. Ask any teacher–some kids struggle to exhibit appropriate behavior during quiet moments, and others don’t.
What can you do if your child acts inappropriately at a funeral?
Generally speaking, most people would recommend removing a child who is behaving “inappropriately” at a funeral.
However, one person’s “inappropriate behavior” is not the same as another’s.
We understand how frustrated and embarrassed you may feel about your child’s behavior. However, it would be best if you kept in mind the developmental level of the child. Some children (regardless of age) can only focus on an activity or event for minutes at a time, and others can sit still for more extended periods.
Add to this scenario the stress that you and your child may be experiencing by attending the funeral, and you have a recipe for disaster.
While it is easy to become frustrated at children acting out at an emotionally charged event, try to focus your energies on more positive thoughts. As you watch your children run off energy in the parking lot of the funeral home, use the time to reflect on the life of the deceased.
Can you bring a child to a burial or interment?
Yes, you can bring a child to a burial or interment. However, because burials or interments are outside, this event may be trickier for parents and children to navigate than a funeral service at a church or funeral home.
Graveside services are sometimes outdoor standing events, and toddlers and small children may struggle with the idea of standing still and being quiet when they are outside. However, graveside services usually aren’t very long, so sometimes you can distract your child enough to behave appropriately at this type of service.
Please don’t get so wrapped up in your children’s behavior at a funeral that you ignore their feelings. While your child may not be able to feel solace from attending a service, that doesn’t mean that your toddler won’t feel a deep sense of loss at the death of a loved one.
Consider talking with a children’s counselor, minister, or social worker on how to help your child grieve the loss of someone close to your family.
If you're looking to read more on bringing kids to funerals, read our guides on kid and baby funeral attire and what to know about bringing a teenager to a funeral.