While traveling, we find ourselves in cemeteries more often than you would think. Whether it is at Arlington National Cemetery during a trip to Washington, DC, or a stop to pay respect and let the kids learn more about their family history, there are times when our children are expected to behave reverently.
Children are not born understanding the significance of places of mourning, so it is up to us as their parents to teach them. Here are a few ways to help your kids behave appropriately in these quiet places:
- Explain to your children where you are going before you get there. Tell your children the symbolism of the Vietnam Wall; remind them that you are about to pay respect at Grandma’s grave and share a favorite memory; talk about the significance of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier before you are standing in a mass of tourists. Do not wait until you arrive to instruct them in how to behave.
- Make them do math. Recently, we toured a church from the 19th century with a cemetery attached. I encouraged the kids to look at the dates and find the oldest and youngest people buried there. This led to an organic discussion about infant mortality rates 150 years ago and how blessed we are to live today.
- Give them a task. When we visit the burial locations of family members, even those four or five generations removed, the kids are put to work doing a grave rubbing. With butcher paper and a crayon, Luke and Ellie can record all the information from a headstone or marker. This simple act gives them a connection to the place that they would not have had before.
- Remind them of the rules. In places like this, normal “outside” rules no longer apply. Tell them that you expect them to be quiet, to walk instead of run, to avoid walking on graves when sidewalks are available, and to be sensitive to others in the area.
- Expose them. Allow children the opportunity to learn about life by taking them to places like cemeteries and memorials. So many people believe that these are not places for children, but children will never learn to be there if they are never given the chance.
- Know when to call it. When Luke was a toddler, we took him to the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC. Signs all over asked for quiet from guests, but Luke decided that he was done and began to wail. Matt and I didn’t see the Jefferson Memorial that day; out of respect for other visitors and because we understood that our son had been pushed to his limits, we simply walked away. We eventually got back there 9 years later and, I’m happy to say, Luke didn’t cry once.