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Parental guidance: Easing a child through a wake or funeral

Tips for easing your child through a wake

Tips for easing your child through a wake or funeral. (July 26, 2011) Photo Credit: iStock

At what age is it appropriate to bring a child to a wakeor a funeral?

"If it's somebody close to the child -- a parent, a sibling, a grandparent -- I would say 4 or 5," says Kathleen Dwyer-Blair, director of the Nassau Guidance and Counseling Center and a specialist in bereavement. "It's important for them to have the experience of saying goodbye."

She acknowledges this is a controversial issue. "I know parents who wouldn't even consider having the child go," Dwyer-Blair says.

If the child wants to stay home, no matter what age, that wish should be honored. "If they're forced to go, that would be traumatic," Dwyer-Blair says. But if the child wants to go, the parents should prepare the child for what will happen.

Tell him a group of people who love the relative will gather, and that some may cry because they are sad, and others may even laugh if they are sharing a funny memory of the person who died. Explain that there may be an open casket and that the child can either sit in the back of the room or approach, Dwyer-Blair says. Explain that the relative may look a little different, perhaps like she's sleeping.

If it's someone less important to the child, say a Scout leader or a teacher, again give him the choice. You can suggest other ways to honor the deceased, perhaps by writing a note to the family about what the person meant to him, she says.

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