You’ll hear a wide variety of opinions on what age is appropriate for a child to attend a funeral for the first time. Although some would argue that preschoolers should be left with sitters, few would say that teens should be banned from the experience. The answer to this question depends on the disposition of the child or teen.
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If your teen will attend a funeral for the first time, you might want to use the event as a teachable moment. Use the experience to teach funeral etiquette and appropriate gifts to give to someone who is grieving. You might want to use the event to teach your teen about your religious beliefs regarding death and the afterlife.
Here are some other things to consider talking about before your teen attends a funeral or visitation for the first time.
Funeral Etiquette for Teens
Most teens have the benefit of years of school that teaches them how to behave in a formal environment. They may also attend regular religious services, which is also helpful in learning appropriate behavior for a funeral.
There’s other funeral etiquette to consider. Besides knowing how to behave, your teen will also need to know what to wear to a funeral and how to express condolences. Learn more about helpful tips and information to share.
How to behave
You may begin your discussion on how to behave at a funeral by describing the emotions that other people may be experiencing. Tell them that those in the immediate family will most likely remember this day as one of the most difficult in their lives.
Instruct your teen that the reason you attend a funeral is to show respect for the person who died and offer support and love to the immediate family members. This means that the appropriate behavior is to be quiet and reserved. Tell your teen not to seek attention from others during any part of the event. Tell your teen not to talk during the service or exhibit boisterous behavior.
What to wear
Describing appropriate funeral attire is tricky because it depends on a variety of factors. Some cultural or religious groups may dress more formally than others when attending a funeral. The style of dress is also determined by the geographic area and socioeconomic group.
In general, the appropriate clothing for a funeral would be more formal than informal. The clothing doesn’t have to be black, but you might consider more muted colors. Most would agree that funeral clothing should be modest, clean, and pressed.
Some feel that clothing for a visitation or wake may be less formal than clothes you wear for a funeral, especially if a religious service accompanies the funeral.
Your teen may be able to wear jeans in some situations.
Most would agree that it’s more important to attend a funeral instead of staying home because you have “nothing to wear.” The immediate family members at the service have much more to consider than what you wear to the funeral — as long as the outfit isn’t too outlandish.
How to express condolences
If you are going to a wake or visitation, your teen will be forced to greet a member of the immediate family. This may cause your teen quite a bit of anxiety, so it is best to instruct him on what to say before they encounter this situation.
First, try not to leave your teen alone in this uncomfortable situation. As you go through the receiving line, have your teen accompany you so they can see how you handle this interaction. Follow through on this promise.
Second, tell the teen that it would be appropriate to share a brief, pleasant memory with the surviving family members if they knew the deceased. Your teen may also comment on the positive traits the deceased possessed. You may have your teen think of what they want to say before they attend the event.
If the teen did not know the deceased well, you might wish to instruct her to say, “I’m sorry for your loss.” Don’t worry if this term is overused. It is always an appropriate way to express sorrow when someone dies.
Finally, you may want to give your teen special instructions on talking with another grieving teen in attendance, especially if the teen lost a parent.
What to expect during the service
There are many types of wakes, visitations, memorial service, funerals, and scattering ceremonies. As you tell your teen what to expect, it would be helpful to find out what type of service you would attend.
For example, if you will attend a religious ceremony for a faith group that you do not belong to, you might need to give special instructions and expectations.
You may also want to prepare your teen for the possibility of an open casket viewing during the visitation or the presence of cremains in an urn next to the photograph of the deceased.
The more information you give the teen, the more comfortable your teen will feel. This is only possible if you knew the deceased and the family members well enough to know what kind of funeral to expect.
More Tips for Attending Your First Funeral Service
Attending a funeral is a unique experience and many times, people remember the first end-of-life service they attended. Here are some additional tips on how to make the event as comfortable as possible for all involved.
1. Discuss the possible presence of the body
The presence of the deceased may be jarring for your teen. You might prepare him for this possibility by explaining how the dead person will look like they are sleeping, even though they're not. You might also tell your child that a professional at the funeral home will do his best to make the corpse look as natural as possible by applying makeup and styling the hair.
You may also mention that most Americans do not choose to touch the body as it rests in the coffin, even though this may vary from group to group.
2. Prepare for questions from your teen about death
Attending a funeral may cause your child to think about life and death. This may lead to a lot of questions and perhaps some anxiety. Some parents use such moments as opportunities to share their religious or spiritual beliefs with their children.
You may want to instruct your child that questions are expected and encouraged, but they should be asked during the car ride on the way home from the event. Talking during a formal service should, of course, not happen.
3. Instruct your teen to stay off their phone or tablet
It’s not just teens who need a reminder to stay off the phone during a funeral, but you may mention this to your teen before you arrive at the event.
Your entire family may want to take a moment to turn off phones before getting out of the car to ensure that it won’t be a distraction during the service. You may also need to remind your teen to remove his AirPods and stow them in a safe place before going to the funeral home.
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4. Tell your teen that it’s okay to show emotion
Even those who believe that their loved one went to heaven after death may be sad that the family member is no longer a part of their life on earth.
Tell your teen that it’s okay if the funeral makes her want to cry. Death may cause your teen to feel a wide variety of emotions.
5. Look for signs that attending the funeral may have affected your teen
If your teen has never considered life and death, attending a funeral may bring up a wide variety of emotions and concerns.
Even if the teen was not particularly close to the deceased, they might be deeply affected by the funeral. Check out this article about signs your teen may be ready for grief counseling to see if the experience may require conversations with a professional.
Offer Comforting Words to Your Teen
Your teen may try to get out of attending the funeral. While you may be tempted to protect your child from the experience, consider it a teachable moment. After you explain what is expected and show your teen an example of how to behave, your child will be more likely to attend funerals in the future.
If your teen continues to complain about going to the service, remind her that very few people want to go to funerals. They aren’t usually pleasant or fun events. We go to show honor to the deceased and support for the family members. Consider sharing your own experiences losing a family member with your teen. Tell your child how touching it was to see a packed church at your mother’s funeral or how you appreciated hearing the kind words about your grandfather at his visitation.
If you're looking to read more about kids and grief, read our guide on taking kids to funerals or memorial services.