Should a Child View an Open Casket? Based on Research

Many complex topics need to be addressed with children as they grow. None are quite so challenging as death, especially when explaining the permanence of losing a loved one. Young children, in particular, struggle with the idea of dying as a concept and may not understand what it means. 

A child can view an open casket, but many parents worry that this can lead to trauma in children. Studies don’t provide an age for seeing a body. Instead, context and your child’s temperament are the most important factors when deciding to bring kids to a viewing. 

In this article, we’ll be looking at what the experts say about children and processing grief. We’ll also break down the best way to approach death and funerals to help your child through the event. 

Is It OK for a Child To View an Open Casket?

In 2018, a qualitative study was published by the University of Rovira I Virgili on children and how they dealt with grief. Researchers found that children don’t process death the same way, and it depends on how their family and surrounding society handle the topic.

What does this say about viewing an open casket? Ultimately, the reaction directly correlated with how they saw death itself. 

It can be okay for a child to view an open casket. Children who had an open dialog with their families about the loss fared better than those where the topic was treated as taboo. The more honest the discussion was beforehand, the more secure they felt seeing the body. 

It’s important to note that handling an open casket viewing isn’t the same as having an emotional response. Some children were more vocal with their grief than others, but the study looked at how they processed their grief moving forward. 

Dr. Jaime Howard, Ph.D., who works for The Child Mind Institute, answered this question in a blog post about whether children should attend funerals at all. 

In their response, they pointed to some questions parents should be asking: 

  • What’s your child’s general temperament? 
  • Do they tend to hold onto emotional upsets, or do they let go quickly?
  • How prone is your child to anxiety?
  • How long will the ceremony be, and are they able to remain still and engaged for that long?
  • Are they easily distracted, especially when under stress?

All of these are fantastic guidelines to help you decide the best course of action. 

As Dr. Howard helpfully points out, there’s no right or wrong answer. You know your child, and if you suspect they wouldn’t be able to handle an open casket or would struggle through a funeral, you have options. 

Some worry about the long-term effects of a funeral on a child’s psyche. A study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry researched the impact of attending a parent’s funeral on kids of varying ages. 

They started with a survey on whether they wanted to participate and found that most did. 

During the ceremony, the children were emotionally stable and well-behaved. Afterward, researchers did a two-month psychological checkup and discovered no enhanced trauma symptoms in young attendees. This bears out with other expert opinions that funerals, with and without an open casket, provide necessary closure when saying goodbye to close relatives. 

If we can take anything away from the three above sources, it’s that children are people, and they have their emotional states, strengths, and needs. 

There’s no single answer to whether they should view an open casket. But being honest about the death of a loved one, and having an open discussion beforehand about death and what to expect at the ceremony, is crucial.

Read this page on my website to learn more about open casket funerals.

Children Might Not Understand the Loss of a Loved One

Understanding death is difficult for anyone, but children especially struggle with the concept. Sitting down and explaining that a loved one has passed and won’t be seen again is hard but necessary. Parents should express the idea on whatever level their child can process. 

Let’s look at an example: 

You have a 12-year-old and 3-year-old who’ve lost their grandfather, and it’s both their first experience with death. Both were close to him and had questions. 

So you sit down with each to talk about what has happened and what it means. 

The 12-year-old wants to know how they died and if they were in pain at the end. You explain that they’d been sick for a very long time and were ready to let go. The hospital had them on painkillers to keep them comfortable, and they passed surrounded by loved ones. 

You tell your child they went peacefully and weren’t alone, hurting, or frightened. 

On the other hand, your 3-year-old wants to know where grandpa is, when they can see them again, and why you’re sad. You tell them that their grandpa has died, which means he has gone away and won’t be able to come back. But that you’ll all be going to say goodbye to him at a special place, with all the people who loved him. 

You explain that you’re sad because you’ll miss him, and it’s OK to be sad because it means you loved him very much. 

Religion may come in at this point. If you believe in an afterlife, you can tell your children that you’ll see him again someday. For anyone not religious, focusing on how it’s normal to feel the way they are can ease some of the confusion and overwhelming emotions they may be experiencing. 

Girl mourning at the grave on cemetery

Tips To Help Your Child Process Death and Grief

Children understand death differently depending on their age, experience, and whether they’re neurotypical or neurodivergent. By breaking down the age group, you can find the emotional level where your little one can process death and grief on their terms. 

For Toddlers and Younger

Children in this age range won’t be capable of understanding what death is. Attempting to explain it will likely only lead to confusion. 

However, they’re very aware of the emotions of their caretakers, which can have a direct impact on their emotional state. You may find your infant or toddler crying more, seeming distressed, or requiring more attention. 

Taking care of yourself is essential, not only for you but for them. Don’t hide from your emotions. Take comfort from your loved ones and consider seeing a specialist who can help you process your grief. 

Provide your child with plenty of support, love, and affection during this time. Try to avoid separation as much as possible. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have breaks and time to yourself, as your wellbeing is just as critical as those of your children during this trying time. 

For Young Children, Adolescents and Teens

By the time your child is in preschool, they can understand that death means someone goes away. The problem is with the concept of permanence, and they won’t understand that being dead means someone is gone forever. 

There’s no way to avoid this until they’re old enough to get what death is. 

Use very plain and simple language when explaining death to this age range. Don’t use any sugar-coated euphemisms, as this will confuse them. Tell them that the person has died, which means they can’t come back and we can’t see them any longer. This may distress your child, but providing them with plenty of love and attention will help them get through it. 

They might ask when they can see the loved one again in the future. 

Just keep reinforcing that it isn’t possible, but that the lost relative or friend knows that they love them very much. Over time, your child will begin to understand. 

Adolescents and children in first grade and beyond will have more questions and feelings about death and may become anxious at the idea of dying and grief-stricken as they come to accept the permanence of death. Some may even have feelings of guilt that they can’t explain, feeling responsible for the loss or as though they didn’t do much during the deceased’s life. 

Be prepared to speak to them openly about death as a universal concept. Explain that everyone and everything eventually dies, and it’s a part of the cycle of life. 

Talk about the good times and the importance of treasuring those moments. Remember good times, and reassure them that their loved one’s passing isn’t their fault, and they wouldn’t have passed with any negative feelings about your child. 

When they have questions, answer them to the best of your ability. 

Don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know something or when talking about the mysteries of death. Provide as much love and support as they need, and give them time to come to terms with what has occurred.

Helpful Media About Death for Children

Having a dialog about death is great, but where do you start? What about speaking to kids who have a more challenging time comprehending change? This is one topic that’ll affect everyone at some point, and experts have aimed to help parents start “the talk.” 

Here are some helpful resources to get started.

Sesame Street, “Farewell, Mr. Hooper”

In 1983, an episode of the PBS show Sesame Street aired an episode about death and grieving after Will Lee, the actor who played Mr. Hooper, passed away. It was considered one of the best depictions of grief on television and helped many children understand what death was and meant. 

Parents still use the episode today to support their own kids when they lose someone in their life.  You can view part of the episode on YouTube:

Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, “When Pets Die” 

In 1993, beloved children’s entertainer Fred Rogers aired an episode where postman Mr. Feely arrives at his door to ask for a small box. He discovered a dead bird during his rounds and wished to give it a proper sendoff. This leads to a segment where Mr. Rogers and his puppet friends talk about pets they’ve lost and what it means to die. 

Rugrats, “Mother’s Day” 

Millennials might remember a heartbreaking episode of Nickelodeon’s show Rugrats. His single father raised Chuckie Finster with no word of what happened to his mom. During Mother’s Day, we find out that his mother died of an illness shortly after he was born. The episode looks at grief and can be a hard watch. 

But in the end, Chuckie discovers that even if his mother has passed, she’s still in his heart. 

Todd Parr The Goodbye Book 

Written for children between the ages of three and six, this simple storybook (available on goes through the various emotions common in grieving children. It explains both what death is, and it’s perfectly natural to feel many different things. It focuses on it being alright to move forward and be happy, even when you feel sad, without minimizing those feelings. 

Rowland & Baker The Memory Book 

Aimed at children between four and eight, this is a unique book (available on that starts with one fear, which is forgetting the ones who leave us. From there, it goes through the complex emotions of grief, helping kids understand how they feel and why they feel it while reassuring them that no one truly goes away completely.

Schwiebert, P Tear Soup: A Recipe For Healing After Loss

Written by two hospice workers and illustrated to perfection, this is a very handy book  (available on for teens going through loss. Winner of the 2001 Theologos Book Award, it goes through the stages of grief and helps come to terms and understand those emotions while giving practical advice for moving forward. 

Final Thoughts

Death is never an easy concept to address, whatever your age. Children are vulnerable, leading us to hide complex topics from them. Only you know if an open casket is appropriate for your child. But being open and letting them face these challenges head-on can make it easier.


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Alex Noel

Hi there! I'm Alex Noel and live in Indianapolis, Indiana. I started this website to share my experience. My goal is to provide Americans a more fulfilling goodbye.

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