By Paulina Rael Jaramillo, M.A.
Children have a built-in tendency to sense when something is wrong. Letting them know (in age appropriate terms) when a close family member is seriously ill or has died, is much better than withholding information and speaking in hushed voices. Keeping children “in the dark” creates and air of mystery and impending doom. They have vivid imaginations and tend to put the worst possible interpretations on things they don’t understand, especially when adults are being secretive. Talking to your kids about the situation will help them to better comprehend what’s happening and lessen their anxiety.
Some points you need to keep in mind are:
♦ Keep the conversation brief and to the point (children have short attention spans).
♦ Use simple terminology that’s age appropriate.
♦ Be honest but share only basic information.
♦ Reassure them that while the situation is sad, the world and their lives will continue.
♦ Ask them if they have any questions or concerns.
♦ Tell them they can come to you anytime they want to talk
Most cultures have established norms with respect to children being allowed to attend funeral services. Some cultures are reluctant, while others see it as a way to introduce them (while surrounded by family) to a reality which they will probably experience more than once in their lifetime.
My children were in their teens when their grandfather passed away. They attended the funeral services along with several cousins of various ages. Among those in attendance were many of Dad’s friends who came with extended family members, including some three and four-year-olds. A particular case that stands out in my memory is the great grandfather who held his grandson (age 4) by the hand as he greeted the mourners. The elderly gentleman extended his hand to each of us and offered his condolences. The four-year-old followed his grandfather’s example and extended his hand as he repeated the same phrase his grandparent had used.
The procedure, which was conducted in a natural and respectful manner, served not only to provide an example of appropriate behavior, it also implied that death is not something alien and cataclysmic but part of the human experience. The funeral service can also be a way for children to see the big picture and acquire a sense of closure they might not otherwise have.
However, the decision whether to allow children to attend funeral services or not, is one that each parent needs to make with their own children in mind. Several factors that must be taken into consideration are: the child’s age, maturity level, relationship to the deceased, current issues in the child’s life, etc. Whether children are allowed to attend or not, the most important thing to keep in mind (especially when a close family member dies) is to provide constant reassurance of your love and willingness to talk. This will provide the security and platform they need to help them heal and move forward in their own lives.
About the Author--------
Paulina Rael Jaramillo has a Master of Arts degree in Rehabilitation Counseling from CSUSB and is a facilitator for The Stephan Center. She has worked with families and youth in various capacities, including crisis intervention and maintenance. The above excerpt was taken from her most recent book, Life Resumed: After a Catastrophic Event and Other Loss (2020) and is available through www.Amazon.com.