No child should go to a funeral without being prepared for what will happen. Before the service, describe the rituals and sights that a child will see there. Share what the room will look like, who will be there, how they might feel and act, and what the child will see. If the casket will be open, explain how the deceased will look. Also, ask the child how he or she might like to say goodbye. If the family is going to pick out pictures to show at the funeral or service, involve the children in this. Encourage children to commemorate the person who died in a way that feels meaningful to them. Writing a poem or song, drawing, or doing something the deceased enjoyed can be satisfying to a child.
If a child doesn't want to attend a funeral or service, ask what's worrying him or her and what would help. Try to soothe fears while still answering honestly. Most experts believe that it's best not to force a reluctant child to participate. When children do wish to participate, it helps to assign an adult to act as a buddy at the service, says Kathy Clair-Hayes, a grief counselor for children at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. That way, if a child becomes overwhelmed or wants to leave, someone is available to help take him or her outside or to a quiet place. Ideally, this shouldn't be a loved one who wishes to stay at the service.