The development of children’s understanding of death

Hopkins, Michelle (2014) The development of children’s understanding of death. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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Abstract

This study explored British primary school-aged children’s (N = 92) understanding of death as a biological event. By examining the impact of age, cognitive ability, religious beliefs, previous experience of death and/or serious illness, and socioeconomic status (SES) in one study, it was anticipated that a more detailed account of children’s developing death understanding would be revealed.
Four groups of children (4-5 years, 6-7 years, 8-9 years, 10-11 years), were compared in relation to their acquisition of the five subcomponents of death, as assessed by the Death Interview (Slaughter & Griffiths, 2007). Consistent with a recent study (Panagiotaki, Nobes, Ashraf & Aubby, 2014), children aged 4-5 understood irreversibility first, and had started to grasp the ideas of applicability, cessation and inevitability. However, they had not yet developed what is considered to be a mature concept of death. Whereas the majority of 6-11 year olds understood the five subcomponents of death to varying degrees, with causality the last concept to be understood.
Knowledge of irreversibility changed in 10-11 year olds indicating a more sophisticated understanding. Explanations for death not being final were justified with religious/spiritual beliefs in an afterlife, and offered a dualistic approach to reasoning (Astuti, 2007). Children with a lower than average academic ability experienced difficulties understanding the death concepts, compared with average and high average achieving children.
These findings highlight that British children do develop their understanding of death at different rates according to their age and cognitive competence. More specifically, there was a marked change in children’s understanding of death between the ages of 4-5 and 6-11, particularly in 10-11 year olds with reference to the idea that death is irreversible. This provides preliminary support for children’s understanding of death developing according to a U-shaped curve rather than the staged model, as reported in previous literature.
Keywords: understanding of death; children; age; cognitive ability

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences > Norwich Medical School
Depositing User: Brian Watkins
Date Deposited: 19 Nov 2014 15:44
Last Modified: 19 Nov 2014 15:44
URI: https://ueaeprints.uea.ac.uk/id/eprint/51161
DOI:

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