Thursday, February 26, 2015

Study group discussion: How and when do children understand the concept of death

A six year old boy with neuroblastoma has a recurrence of the tumor despite aggressive treatment. The doctor discusses the patient prognosis with his parents and recommends palliative care. Parents ask how they should tell son the prognosis and possible death. Doctor advises parents to be honest and follow patients lead. Patient most likely has which understanding of death?

1- Being asleep
2- Being final
3- Being in a long journey
4- Being temporarily separated from parents
5- No understanding of death.

3 year olds think it's temporary separation. They keep asking whether their pets will come back.

At 6 years of age the child begins to understand that death is final and fears that his or her parents will die and leave.

It is not until about age 9, however, that the child understands that he or she also can die.

Since the child was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, he will be able to understand that death is final, but will be unable to understand his possibility of death.

The answer is 2. Death is final.

Additional info about normal child development discussed by an awesomite mother:

My 6 year old doesn't understand death much. 8 year old gets it.

6 year old knows, in the abstract, what death is, because we've had a dog die. But he never showed true grief in the understanding of it, asked where you go when one does, etc.

My daughter is 8.5 and is now questioning the afterlife. She's asking questions regarding what happens, really wanting to know, etc.

Hope that helps! 

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