Age for Funeral Attendance?

Updated on December 28, 2012
F.W. asks from Cumberland, MD
18 answers

My daughter is 4 and as my husband and my grandparents age we are beginning to worry about how we would explain their passing to her. She is ...morbid to say the least. About once a week she blurts out, "I don't want to die" for no apparent reason. When we found a dead bird on our back porch a year or two ago she was obsessed with it and had such a hard time dealing with it. Anyway, what are your opinions about the age that children should attend funerals? The one I fear is closest at hand would be an open casket funeral.

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answers from Seattle on

It depends on the funeral, the family, and the kids.

I've taken my son to funerals as a toddler, and gotten a sitter as a toddler.

I've taken him to funerals as a a 10yo, and left him home as a 10yo.

Personally... I'm FAR more likely to go to wakes, and also more likely to bring my son.

I always always go (and usually being my son) to families sitting shiva.


There's just no one right age/answer.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

My mom's neighbor passed unexpectidly when my oldest was about 15 months. I took her and the neighbor boy I was babysitting, at the time he was almost 3, to the funeral. I met his mom there, so him going was her call. I had to leave with my daughter because she was too young and making too much noise, but the 3 year old knew what was going on.

So I think it really depends on the kid and the person who passed, plus the setup of the funeral.

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answers from St. Louis on

from birth on....

seriously, death & funeral rites are a passage of life. If you approach this from a caring, matter-of-fact point of view & behavior....then kids do great with funerals. & of course, questions will be asked.....& you should be honest in your answers allowing the child to understand your beliefs.

Growing up, my small family gathered thru funerals....not weddings. Sounds sad (& somewhat twisted) to say, but my cousins & I have wonderful memories from being included with all of the family. We have always followed each funeral with a wake....which provided the children time to enjoy each other. (I know, it sounds so bad!)

Fast forward to my children....I have always included them. When our daughter died, I specifically asked for the children in our family to be included. It's been 19 years, & I am proud to say that many of my nieces still mention my daughter's memorial service. They are so thankful that they were allowed closure, were a part of our life, & still carry memories of our daughter.

With death, there should be no fear. Use children's books to help prepare her. Let her spend some time exploring nature & it's processes. Death occurs around us each & every day....right down to using a bouquet of flowers as a teaching tool. By using these methods, we can teach our children to accept life & death....without fear & drama.

By contrast, we have friends who chose to shelter their children from death. The first funeral the kids wanted to attend was their grandmother's, & it completely freaked them out to the point that they were basketcases. Both kids were adults before they were able to cope with death & funerals.....& both have berated their parents for sheltering them. They have vowed to better prepare their own children. :)

& as I have said, my children have always accepted death in their lives. I am very proud to say that both of my sons have volunteered as pallbearer, including for their beloved grandmother. My younger son was 12 at the time....a very proud Mom Moment.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

I agree that all ages should be able to attend. The only children I know that have been "traumatized" (bit strong of a word actually) are a brother and sister literally forced to veiw their grandma's open casket and give her a goodbye kiss.

My niece was 4 when my sister, her mom, died. Dad decided that she nor her brother could attend the funeral. It would upset them and hurt them somehow. My niece told me that she really wished she had been able to say goodbye to her mom. She was not allowed at the wake/visitation or funeral.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

The morbidity is normal. When my DD went through this phase she would constantly say things like "Mommy one day you will be old and then you die..." *Gasp* I was constantly in fear she would say something like that to my elderly in-laws - but I think after many conversations she has finally grasped that in our society it is not considered polite to remind people of their mortality...

Anyhow, you know your child best, you know your own reaction best and you know how your family prefers to grieve - base your decision on that.
If you are someone that tends to be overwhelmed with grief or have issues with the open casket - it would be better you leave your 4 year old with a sitter. Seeing you upset will upset her...
Same if your family tends to have the somber, quiet kind of funeral, something that may run too long for a young child to keep it together.

One of my DD's close friends (4) lost her Grandma a few months ago. They had an open casket funeral and it was not a problem at all. As a matter of fact I have seen beautiful pictures of this little girl dancing in front of her grandmothers casket while they were waiting for the funeral to start. For this family it was perfect, it was what grandma would have wanted and it brought smiles to everyone's face. Her grandma was very old and had been sick for a long time.... so everyone knew that this was coming and her parents had prepared her for months before she died. No nightmares, no lasting after effects.

Every family grieves differently and of course it also depends on who dies (long time coming vs. a sudden death). In my family it would probably be similar to my friend, we prefer to celebrate the life of the person that passed, for us this includes kids being present and being kids. That is for example what my mom wants.
My husbands family is very conservative, I don't think that that would be acceptable to them - their funerals are quiet and everyone is dressed in black... not a function I would take my 5 year old to.
Good luck!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

This is a natural thing. It's about this age that kids are introduced to death. I don't think it will scar her for life. I remember going to my 98 yr old great grandma's funeral about that age. I loved her but it didn't really click for me, at this age it's like a practice funeral.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Austin on

My grandson went to his great-grandfather's funeral just a couple of months ago... he was just shy of 5 years old.

He didn't know his great-grandfather very well at all, since he had only seen him once or twice (he lived 12 hours away).

His pet bird had died a few months ago, so he understood about death, anyway.

We told him that at the funeral home there would be a large box up at the front, and that the body would be in there, and we could go up and see it if he wanted... if he didn't want to, that was fine.... we also told him that some people might be sad, and it was ok if people cried.... that was normal.... and that there would be a lot of talking (Rosary service), and stuff like that...

He was fine..... he went up and looked at the body, but didn't say anything.... then later, he fell asleep and slept through the service..... which was fine with us!

Death is a part of life.... it also depends on how YOU react to it..... they will pick up from you, also.

Also, when my kids were 5, 7, and 9, their grandfather died... they were in the living room when EMS was working on him.. (heart attack)..... when it came time for the funeral, we gave the kids the option of going into the service, or staying in the nursery (with their 6 week old brother). The 5 and 9 year old went into the service, the 7 year old opted to stay in the nursery. That was fine.... They knew their grandpa very well, since they saw him several times a year.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

My daughters first funeral was when she was 4. It was my Aunt/Godmother and I wasn't sure how she would handle it, so I made sure that I had several other adults that were willing to entertain her in "shifts" just in case she had a problem. She behaved better than some of the adults. She went right up to the casket and said her goodbyes and even kissed my Aunt on her forehead, something I would never have done myself. People were both touched and amazed. But, that's my kid. Yours may not handle things as well. I think much depends on the individual, as well as how the adults around them deal with the subject in general. I have never taught my daughter that death is to be feared. It's an unavoidable part of life and we deal with it.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Appleton on

Any age --- death is a part of life.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

In our family all ages attend (and weddings, too).
Funerals are for the comforting of the living - and children are living examples that life goes on.
We explain that the dead persons spirit has gone to heaven and left their empty shell behind since they didn't need it anymore.
Granted we've got some characters in the family but no one has ever been traumatized by attending a funeral/wake/grave side service.
Your daughter is 4 - you can't compare her response to a dead bird when she was 2 or 3 to now - she's grown so much in that time.
She might be 6 or 8 or older before anyone passes away and she'll be better able to understand (although kids never really understand death till their teens or mid 20's - the young have no sense that mortality applies to them - they always think they are immortal which explains a lot of the risky behaviors young adults put themselves through).
Don't borrow trouble from the future.
Cross that bridge when you get to it.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

I started going to funerals by the time I was 2. My very first memory is standing behind a folding chair that my mom was sitting in and she was crying. I didn't understand and was afraid. She told me she was sad because her mom had died. I still didn't understand.

To this day I often wonder if that experience is the reason I have such a worry about getting sick and dying.

So I suggest you simple do NOT take her to a funeral for any reason until she is old enough to know what it is and that is will be a life long memory for them and that they will always see those images in their mind. They will see the body laying in the casket, see the people filing past looking in, see the face posed in sleep, then they'll see the lid get closed and locked. Then later they'll see the hole, the ground, the mechanism that lowers the casket, the whole realization of just what happens when one enters that "sleep".

Please don't put these images in her mind. Let her wonder or be mad because she can't go, what ever. She does not NEED to be anywhere near a funeral.

Think about it this way. If YOU died would you want your 4 year old child to see you laying there with your hands posed, your eyes closed, face made up, all that entails. Then see the whole experience of them putting your body in the box in the ground? No, you would want her to remember you playing with her, laughing, tickling her, talking with her, etc....

Kids are visual and she will only remember what she sees. She doesn't have the cognitive ability to process any other part of what is going on.



answers from Washington DC on

I think it depends on the child and their understanding of death. My son is 4 and is also going through an obsession with death. We live on a busy road and see ALOT of road side pets and animals which is why I think he is obsessing and asking many questions, but he doesn't really understand what it means to die yet. Just through conversation, I know that my little guy would not be ready.



answers from Baton Rouge on

It depends on the child.
My daughter was five when her aunt was murdered, and her dad and I took her to the funeral. She didn't want to go up to the casket and we didn't make her. We sat near the back so that if she got upset, it would be easy to take her outside without disturbing anyone else.
We didn't take her to the burial.



answers from San Francisco on

Open caskets are a money maker, for the funeral business. When I was in the fifth grade a classmate died & we were all forced to attend the open casket funeral. This frightened all of us, even in the Bible it says not to look upon a dead body. A four year old shouldn't be exposed to this. When my mother & brother died, I didn't allow body viewing. My little cousins were there & we sang & prayed. Protect your daughters young heart.



answers from Sacramento on

My kids are 9 and 11 and I still havent taken them to a funeral. My aunt, whom they were close to, passed 5 years ago. I had a friend watch them and then bring them to the reception after the funeral. Each child is different, so it depends on the maturity level of the child. I was about 13 or so when my great grandmother passed and seeing her in the casket really freaked me out. I know we all have to deal with death, but I would like to shelter my kids from having to actually see a dead body for as long as possible.



answers from San Francisco on

I would be very careful with her and watch her over the next few years--see how she responds to death and when the time comes, see if she is emotionally mature enough to handle a funeral. Some kids are ready right away, others are not. It is very individual. But in your case--sounds like your daughter isn't ready right now. I wouldn't let my kids go to a funeral until they are at least 5 or 6.


answers from Norfolk on

Hi, Mommy:

Evidently your child is very sensitive to the concept of loss.
Check around of children's books on the subject of death.

Maybe just say that the bird flew away to heaven.
Be sensitive to her fear of death.
Good luck.


answers from Chicago on

The first funeral I attended was that of my great-grandmother, when I was about 4 years old. All I remember about it is playing with my cousins during the luncheon.

My 6 year old is also a bit morbid--we pass by 2 cemetaries on our way to his school, and he comments or questions them just about every time. We also had a dead bird experience, that he still talks about, after having seen one while on a walk 3 years ago. He still knows excactly where we saw it, and sometimes asks about it. If you have some sort of religious belief system, that might be a good place to start a discussion about the end of life. Having a Christian frame of reference for my son has been a good way for us to speak about death, and what happens to our loved ones when their bodies stop working. But still, I wouldn't take him until he was closer to 7. That's my kid. Some are ready earlier. I was.

I would start the conversations now. If you are worried about her seeing a loved one in a coffin, you can always make sure that you don't actually approach the casket. You can enter the church/funeral home after the visitation/viewing is over, and just attend the funeral where the casket lid will have been closed.

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