It’s a question that may be on the minds of many parents or carers right now. For school-aged children, Queen Elizabeth II has been a popular topic among schools this year. The Platinum Jubilee was celebrated just a few months ago, and now the country mourns the death of Her Majesty.
As a parent or carer, you may be wondering if watching the funeral with your children is appropriate or necessary – or your child may have even mentioned it to you before you’d considered it. It’s important to remember there is no right or wrong answer to that question; you know and understand your child.
Death may be familiar to some children, while it may be a new experience for others. Those who’ve not experienced bereavement before will hear lots of concepts that are likely new to them and may need some explaining.
For children who’ve already experienced the death of somebody important, this may be a reminder of what death means to them and their loved ones. They may or may not have attended a funeral before but could be asking you about watching Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral. It could be a good opportunity to introduce the concept of funerals to a child.
National childhood bereavement charity Winston’s Wish has shared some ways you could help a child’s understanding if you were to watch the funeral together.
Prepare them in advance of the funeral
Adults feel more secure and well-prepared when they know what to expect. Children are no different. Discuss what they will see when the funeral is shown on TV. This could be things like: what the inside of a religious building may look like making comparisons to your own, the ceremony, the silence, the procession, or the coffin.
Perhaps it would be worth pointing out that this funeral may be on a very different or much bigger scale than those you may have experienced in your communities, and you could discuss how they differ. Bringing up certain topics in little doses may feel easier than all at once.
Explain what death means
As adults, we also find death a difficult concept. This can mean we find talking to children about it hard, too, as we want to shield and protect them. It’s important to try and help children understand the physical side of death; comparisons between ‘alive’ and ‘dead’ could be helpful, or explanations such as – the body has stopped working, and they no longer need it. This may be an opportunity to introduce your family’s spiritual or religious beliefs.
Talk about emotions
People’s emotions are affected differently at funerals, and we don’t always know or predict how we’ll react. We may be directly affected, remembering our grief, or saddened on behalf of others being sad.
With children, it’s no different; they may get sad, and that’s okay – it’s a natural response to be sad when someone dies. People grieving may experience other emotions, anything from anger to numbness. Some may not look sad but sit quietly. Others may be seen smiling as someone shares a fond memory.
Make it clear that it’s okay to feel the way they do when watching the funeral. If they want to cry, that’s okay. If they want to sit quietly, that’s also okay. Perhaps it’s too much to understand or handle, and taking a break from watching is also ok.
Be mindful of their needs
Whether before, during or after the funeral, pay attention to the child’s reactions and ask how they feel. Even though you will have prepared the child for what they are watching, it will be reassuring for them to know they have the option to stop if it becomes overwhelming.
Answer any questions that they might have
Be curious and ask them how they found it or if it has stirred up any thoughts or questions for them. Be prepared to answer their questions as simply and honestly as you can. Asking questions can help them process what is happening, but don’t feel you should have all the answers. It’s okay to say, ‘I don’t know’ or ‘Let’s find out’ but it’s important not to close down the question. This allows you to both learn and find the answers together.
Check on the child after the funeral has happened
After Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral, whether a few days or weeks have passed, it’s good to check in again and ask the child if they’ve any more questions or thoughts about their experience. Ask how they feel and if they need to talk through anything they saw or didn’t understand. Encourage them to share how they are feeling, sharing how the experience was for you may also help them open up.
Ask if they want to remember Queen Elizabeth II in a special way
Some children may like to remember Queen Elizabeth II or someone close to them by doing something special. Just as it helps us as adults to find special ways to remember people that have died, it also helps children.