Should Toddlers Attend Funerals

Should toddlers attend funerals - Header Image

Key Points:

  • There’s no right or wrong answer when wondering if you can take your toddler to a funeral
  • Funerals are important family rituals and are part of the grieving process
  • You may give your toddler a say in the decision, if developmentally appropriate
  • Consider how close you and your toddler are to the deceased
  • Consider whether the family of the deceased would like your toddler present

If you’re reading this article, you are probably attending a funeral soon.

We’re sorry for your loss.

You must be wondering whether your toddler should attend the funeral with you? This is an important question. And, there’s no right or wrong answer. It’s more about how the decision is reached as to whether your toddler should attend a funeral.

What are funerals? Why do we attend funerals?

Rather than just considering the practicalities of taking a toddler to a funeral, you should start by thinking about the reasons behind why we hold funerals.

Funerals are important family rituals, so if your toddler wants to go, you should allow them to do so. “ Excluding children from family grief rituals such as a funeral can be devastating, leading to a sense of isolation or even guilt.”

And, while it can be important for your toddler’s emotional wellbeing to have them attend, you may even find that having your toddler there helps grieving family members. Toddlers give smiles, affection, hope and can provide a few moments of relief from the intense feelings of grief.

Consider also that the deceased may have wanted the children in the family to attend.

Funerals are a part of the grieving process. Apparently “ children first acknowledge death in the preschool period.” So toddlers are developmentally not likely to understand death itself. But, that doesn’t mean they don’t have emotional responses to death , or the grief of those around them.

In fact, grief in children aged three and under is often underestimated. If they were close to the person who has died, they will experience feelings of loss and separation . That means they need a way to be able to say goodbye and begin the process of understanding that person is no longer here.

Although the average toddler's cognitive skills may be limited, children three and younger have emotional responses to the death of someone they have known.
Understanding Death and Grief for Children Three and Younger

That being said, there's one question that underscores the above points about why we hold funerals, and this may help you decide whether or not your toddler should attend a funeral.

That question is: How close are they (and you) to the deceased? This may inform the decision you make, because there is a large difference in attending a close family member’s funeral, where they will be surrounded by aunts, uncles and cousins, compared to that of your work colleague who they never met, for example. If it’s the former, it might be very important that your toddler attends. However, if it’s the latter, it might be considered inappropriate.

Should you ask your toddler whether they want to attend the funeral?

One way to decide is to ask your toddler whether they would like to attend with you. Of course, not all toddlers may be able to understand enough to make a decision, or to communicate their feelings about it to you.

If you feel like they might be developmentally able to make a decision (and understand the depth of the situation), you will need to fully explain what they can expect from going . That includes what will happen, who will be there, how people will be dressed, that people will be noticeably upset, and also give them information about the open casket, if there will be one.

You can also explain how you expect them to behave at the funeral. While they may be developmentally too young to follow through on these for the entire funeral, it may help them decide whether they want to attend.

Other factors to consider when deciding to take your toddler to a funeral

As well as your toddler’s relationship with the deceased, and whether they are able to make their own decision, there are some other things you will need to take into account:

  • Will your toddler be able to sit appropriately still for the length of the funeral service?
  • Can they behave appropriately during the funeral? Or are they generally too unpredictable?
  • Will you be with your toddler, supporting them throughout the service? Or are you too close to the deceased, in which case, can you provide them with a “ shepherd ” (a close relative or friend to help them)?
  • Are you prepared to quietly leave the facility if your toddler is being too disruptive? A “shepherd” might be able to leave with your toddler instead, while you remain at the funeral if you need to. It’s helpful to have an exit strategy for your toddler. Sit close to an exit, or at the end of a pew, to make leaving less of a disturbance.
  • Will there be excessive displays of emotion ? These can be scary for a toddler and it’s up to you to determine if this will be too difficult for your toddler to witness.
  • Will the family want your toddler there? Every family is different, and some wouldn’t dream of all getting together without the children - no matter what the occasion.

And one final thing:

Never force a child to do something that they will find traumatic . This may include attending the funeral if they do not wish to go, or something more specific, like viewing an open casket.

Should toddlers attend the wake as well as the funeral?

If you’ve made the decision for your toddler to attend the funeral, you also have to consider the wake.

Wakes may be much longer than the funeral service itself - will your toddler have the attention span for it?

Will your toddler require a nap?

Is the wake venue appropriate to take a toddler to?

You may consider attending the wake for a short time that works for you and your toddler. Or alternatively, make arrangements for your toddler’s care.

It’s not an easy decision to make, whether to take children to a funeral. But if it seems right to take them, then you can.