Apologies if you've been trying to contact us through the form on the contact page. Please email us directly at hello@kenziesgift.com if you have any queries. Thank you!

How to prepare a child for a funeral or tangi

As mātua / parents and caregivers, it’s natural to want to protect tamariki / children from some of life’s toughest times. These include funerals and tangi. But attending a funeral or tangi can actually be really helpful for your child’s grief journey.

Although the involvement of tamariki / children and mātātahi / young people in funerals,tangi and other rituals after a death will vary according to your whānau and your cultural, spiritual and religious beliefs, it can help if they experienceit first-hand, rather than letting their imaginations run wild.

If they’re well prepared and emotionally supported by the adults in their lives, there can be benefits for tamariki / children who attend tangi and other death rituals. These include:

·      Validating their own feelings of grief and loss.

·      Developing an understanding of the reality of the death of a loved one.

·      Seeing whānau and friends grieving together and supporting one another.

·      Feeling included in this significant event.

·      Seeing that a person’s life can be celebrated and grieved at the same time.

Here’s how to prepare a taitamaiti / child for a funeral or tangi.

Give them a choice

Rather than making the decision for tamariki / children, let them decide whether toattend themselves. You can do this by giving them plenty of information, especially about what’s involved.

  • Give them simple and honest information about what will happen. You might need to explain the differences between burials and cremation, for example.
  • Consider talking to them about the difference between their loved one’s body and the part that made them who they were. This might be what you call a soul, spirit or ‘what was special about māmā / mum / pāpā / dad’.
  • Explain about what to expect from people at the funeral or tangi. Tamariki / children might not expect people to seem to have a party after someone has died. Let tamariki / children know that people show their feelings in different ways. Some may cry, some may be quiet, some may laugh - all these feelings are okay. They might get upset by certain things people say like ‘it’s lovely to see you’. An adult isn’t saying that they’re happy the person has died, it’s just something adults say. Or they might hear untrue things like being told they’re ‘the man of the house now and you need to look after your māmā / mum’. They might get upset seeing adults really emotional. Preparing them beforehand that this might happen will help them understand that it’s a normal response to this huge thing.
  • Let tamariki / children know that they may feel many different feelings at the same time which can be confusing, or even not feel anything at all. This is ok.

Be prepared for difficult questions

After death, some tamariki / children can struggle to deal with big questions – things like what happens to people when they die? It’s good to think about howyou might answer these questions, which might happen when your loved one isill, just before or just after they’ve died, or in the run-up to the funeral or tangi.

How you answer this big question depends on your personal and spiritual beliefs. Sometimes, tamariki / children aren’t asking what you think they are – they might want to know what the physical process of dying involves or what happens to a body after death.

Begin by checking what your taitamaiti / child means. Respond with an open-ended question like “What do you think happens?”. This can help you work out what they really want to know. Keep your explanations simple, honest and concrete.

If the question is prompted by more spiritual concerns, like if there’s an afterlife, how you explain this will depend on your own culture and belief system. You might want to explore what your taitamaiti / child believes before explaining your own view.

Viewing or touching the body

Tamariki /children can benefit from being given the choice to view and touch the body, if possible.  It can help them better understand the abstract concept of death, and they sometimes imagine the body to be much scarier than the reality.

If your taitamaiti / child does want to view or touch the body and can do so, prepare them for what they are likely to see and feel, e.g., the skin may be lighter, the skin will be cold, the body may have a lot of make-up on. If the funeral or tangi is the last chance for the taitamaiti / child to see and touch the body of the person who died, let them know this.

Offer plenty of reassurance

Once they’ve decided to attend the funeral or tangi or not, let them know that they can change their minds, at any time. Occasionally check that they’re happy with the decision they’ve made but you don’t have to keep asking them.

If they don’t want to go, reassure them that they won’t be judged and that they can still be involved and say goodbye in a way that works for them.

Reassure them that the person who died can’t feel anything anymore, so they won’t be scared at the thought of being buried. Gently explain it’s the person’s whole body that is being buried or cremated. (Younger tamariki / children can get confused and wonder what happens to the head, arms or legs.)

Let them get involved

It can help your tamariki / children to get involved in the funeral or tangi. They could:

  • Help plan the ceremony.
  • Give a speech or do a reading.
  • Choose some special music.
  • Draw a picture that’s displayed.
  • Put something special into the coffin, if possible.

Plan for the day

On the day, make sure your tamariki / children have a supporter, like an aunty, uncle or one of your best friends. As well as ensuring they’ve got the support they need, it allows you to be fully present on the day, which is essential for your grief journey.