How to Talk to Kids About Sitting Shiva

Every family has their own process for grieving. Some parents elect to include their children in all of the funeral rites and rituals while others opt to leave them out of many elements. Whatever you choose, your children are likely to have questions about what to expect.

Mom comforting child

According to Jewish tradition, families mourn for seven days after a loved one’s funeral. This week-long mourning period is called shiva. The word shiva literally translates to “seven” in Hebrew – representing each day in that mourning week. During this period, friends and family visit in order to keep the mourners company and provide comfort. Here is an easy walk through for both parents and kids of various ages, about what to expect when visiting a shiva house.

Related: How to Talk to Kids About Death and Dying

In Judaism, the rituals and beliefs surrounding loss fall into two categories: respect for the person who died (kavod hamet) and respect for their family and loved ones (kavod hachai). Shiva falls in to the latter area – respect for the family. The purpose of shiva is to let mourners have space and time to grieve. The family of the person who passed away take time off from work or school and away from their daily routines to share memories of their loved one, visit with friends and other family members, and pray. People step in to prepare meals, take care of household chores, and offer solace to the grieving.

If you’re going to bring your children with you to visit a family in mourning, here’s how to break things down for them:

Tell them where you are going and why:
“We are going to Molly’s house. Her Zayde died and she’s very sad. We want to help her family feel better.”

Give kids a head’s up that people may be sad – and that’s okay.
“Some of the grown-ups you see may be crying and that’s alright.”

Let your children know that the house may look a little bit different than it usually does.
“Sometimes people will cover the mirrors in their house while they sit shiva. You might also notice that Molly’s mom lit a special candle.”

Remind them that it’s okay to ask you questions, but to find a time to do that.
“If you have any questions about anything or you feel uncomfortable, just tell me that you need to talk to me in private for a second. We can also talk more when we get home.”

Here is PJ Library’s guide for talking to children about death and grieving.

As with bikur cholim, the mitzvah of visiting the sick, you don’t need to wait for your friends to extend an invitation; rather, check-in with your synagogue or the person coordinating for the family. You’ll be able to learn about dietary preferences, food allergies, and kosher guidelines. If you’re not sure about what to bring over, gift cards for food delivery and fruit platters are always helpful. Visit the section below for more resources:


What to Expect at a Shiva via
How to Pay a Shiva Call via