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Developmental Psychology on Death - Dictionary of Arguments

Upton I 159
Death/Developmental psychology/Upton: There are enormous differences in children’s understanding of loss and how they cope with bereavement. This has often been understood in terms of the children’s cognitive development.
Most researchers believe that infants have no understanding of death, but as infants develop an attachment to a carer they can experience loss or separation.
Between the ages of three and five, children have little idea of what death is. They may confuse death and sleep, and believe that the dead can be brought back to life.
In middle to late childhood, understanding about death becomes more realistic. However, research suggests that it is not until nine years and over that children really understand the finality of death (Cuddy-Casey and Orvaschel. 1997)(1).
Kastenbaum (2000)(2) suggests that the confusion and misunderstanding about death that has been observed in children simply reflects their attempts to try to come to terms with and fully understand what death is and what it means.
It has also been observed that children begin to develop a more logical understanding of what death is through experience - for example, when a grandparent or even a much-loved pet dies (Hayslip and Hansson, 2003)(3).
If this is true, Kellehear (2005)(4) is right to be concerned about the distancing of death and dying from the family and community (…).

1. Cuddy-Casey, M and Orvaschel, H (1997) Children’s understanding of death in relation to child suicidality and homicidality. Clinical Psychology Review, 17: 33-45.
2. Kastenbaum, R (2000) The Psychology of Death. New York: Springer Link.
3. Hayslip, B and Hansson, RO (2003) Death awareness and adjustment across the life span, in Bryant, CD (ed.) Handbook of Death and Dying. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
4. Kellehear, A. (2005) Compassionate Cities: Public health and end of life care. Milton Park: Routledge.

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Developmental Psychology
Upton I
Penney Upton
Developmental Psychology 2011

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