Free «Concept of Death in Children» Essay Sample

1. Introduction

The manner in which children understand death is of great importance to ensuring their upbringing to individuals with facts about death. When their conception of death is understood, it is possible to identify the areas where they have misconceptions about death. Consequently, a corrective education can be provided to them so that they understand what happens to a dead person (Amery 2009). This is based on the fact that children get exposed to death during their life stages such as either seeing dead animals or dead insects, or observing them lying still. In addition, they are exposed to fairy tales and television programs that involve cases of death. Another factor that may affect children’s understanding of the concept is their parents’ idea of death. However, when death is treated as part of life, it will be possible to overcome some forms of fear and lack of understanding associated with it. It will also ensure that cultural beliefs affecting the understanding of death are corrected, and a better understanding is acquired (Bedard-Bidwell 2001). All these conditions result in a number of interpretations of death. Moreover, children may be involved in a situation when a family member dies and thus be unable to understand the implications of the death of the relative. Having understood how they perceive death, it is possible to provide a method of assisting them in overcoming the grief related to the death of a loved one or living with the fact that a loved one has died and be ready for the impacts of the loss. In this paper, the main focus is to understand the concepts of death among children of various age groups (Brestan & Lee 2009). It is followed by research design that will be used to establish the concept of death among children of various age groups. The aim is to evaluate if there is a misconception about death among children in order to devise recommendations on how these misconceptions can be corrected so that children have a better understanding of the concept of death.

1.1. Thesis Statement

There has been increasing need to understand how children perceive the concept of death. Currently, there are a number of people who die leaving behind a number of children who become orphans and are unable to understand the events that have taken place and thus unable to live with the circumstances they have undergone. In addition, it has become necessary to study children’s perception of death and their thinking about it at various stages of development in order to use strategies to create an understanding of the concept at these stages. It is vital to keep in mind that children’s understanding of death is, in its nature, affected by conditions such as religious and cultural backgrounds, initial experiences, and ethnic beliefs. In addition, during the development stages, children undergo a number of experiences which affect their understanding of the concept and thus make them understand death better. This paper investigates the understanding of death among children at various stages, how various life experiences impact it, and how children react to the death of a relative.

1.2. Aims and Objectives

The main aims and objectives of this paper include:

  • To understand children’s definition of death
  • To discover children’s perspective on death
  • To establish children’s perception of impacts of death

1.3. Research Questions

The research questions that will be used to understand the research topic include the following:

  1. What is children’s definition of death?
  2. What are the perspectives of children on death?
  • What are the impacts of death on children?
  1. What are children’s reactions to death?

2. Literature Review

2.1. Perceptions of Children about Death at Various Stages of Life

I. Infancy to 2 Years Old

During this stage, babies do not have cognitive abilities and do not have the capacity to understand concepts such as death (Carey 2005). They are more concerned with those who are closer to them and those who treat them in a friendly manner rather than those who are not in their vicinity. Their functions are based on the present and when someone dies, they only lose contact with the person and are likely to react to adults in their environment. The main concern for babies is their focus on the bereaved and is only anxious when the person is not around (Christ 2000). They may become irritable and also cry constantly, change their sleeping and eating patterns, and show decreased activity levels.

II. Preschool Age (2-4 years old)

In this age group, children may ask questions such as “When will my mummy be back home?” This is because they do not have the ability to comprehend the situation forever and they consider death as something that can be reversed. Even when the child is informed that mother is not coming back, the child may continue to ask the same question after certain time, for example, an hour (Corr & Corr 1996). They do not have the concept that death is different from life, nor do they consider it as something that can happen to them. They play ‘peek-a-boo’ games where they believe that adults disappear but reappear after certain time. However, through these games, they begin to develop the understanding of the difference between death and life.

While grieving, they are present oriented, and they show brief grief reactions. However, there are cases when the grief can be highly intense. At this stage, children are involved in constant learning, they develop the distinction between different phenomena, and when adults die minors start understanding the impacts of separation from them (Cotton & Range 1990). In reaction to this, they may develop tantrums due to their concerns or to ensure their arents are distracted from emotions. They may show grief by being confused, experiencing frightening dreams, showing aggressive characteristics such as clinging, wetting bed, crying inconsolably, and even withdrawing from others. They may be involved in a continuous search for the bereaved despite being sure that the person may not return. They may also be anxious when they are in the vicinity of strangers.

III. Early Childhood Age (4-7 years)

In this age group, children have the concept that death is a temporary occurrence and those who have died will return to life. They may blame themselves for the deaths due to their belief that having negative thoughts about the dead person might have resulted in their deaths (Cox 2005). This is based on the magical belief that everything around them is based on how they understand the happenings in their environment. Even during their exposure to death through school and media, they develop the idea that if one is careful, it is possible to avoid death. They may also develop connections of the events that are not related to one another. For instance, if a girl buys a toy and her sister passes away the following week, she may attribute the death of her sister to have been caused by the toy if the incident is not fully elaborated to her.

In grief response, the child may try to find where the bereaved is. The child may also be involved in repetitive inquiry about the whereabouts of the deceased (Davies & Janosik 2001). In some cases, the child may ask what happens when a person dies and may also want to know whether dead people are able to eat. However, these feelings may be expressed during play rather than verbally (Dulcan & Lake 2012). Ideas of family loss may be concluded when the child is playing with dolls where the child may play act of death or funeral process for the dead.

In certain circumstances, children at this age group may demonstrate that they are not affected by death of their loved ones; however, this does not imply that they accept the occurrence of death (Grollman & Avishai 2011). It is an indication that they are unable to acknowledge the pain they are experiencing at the moment. Their reaction may be based on the reactions of adults around them who show uncertainty about the grief feelings. In some cases, children may show anger, sadness, and display difficulty in sleeping or eating. For the preschoolers’, there may be a regression as a method of receiving nurturance and attracting attention during times of difficulties (Hanks 2010). They develop the fear that other adults may leave them in similar manner as the ones that have died. They may also try to relate the living people to those who have died.

IV. Middle Years of Growth (7-10 years)

At this age, children wish death would be reversible, but they start understanding that death is final and cannot be reversed. They may also develop visual impression of death in the form of objects that can be touched such as ghosts or bogeymen. They expand curiosity about information pertaining to death such as burial, and may ask reasonable questions (Hedderman 2011). Despite having the knowledge that death can happen to anyone and it results from a number of circumstances that people undergo, they do not accept the fact that it can affect their families but rather the elderly or people who are very sick. They may also believe that they can make efforts to control death. In some cases, they may consider death as a punishment, specifically before they attain the age of nine years (Hewitt-Taylor 2008). They may not be able to understand the impact that death may bring to their lives, which is a contributing factor to anxiety.

During grief response, they may develop the concern for the response of others with regards to death, thus being less focused on themselves (Holland 2001). Children at this age may start fearing to lose some of their loved ones through death, thus showing concern for their own health. Consequently, they are likely to fear that they may be harmed and die. In some cases, children may misbehave, display anger, and have difficulties in performing well at school due to the lack of concentration. In other cases, they may develop jocular ideas about death, show indifference, or avoid demonstrating their feelings openly (Eddy 2013). They may also be shocked, live in denial, become depressed, show changes in eating and sleeping patterns, and display reduced rate of development.

They are affected by the problem at hand, as oppose to the younger children, and would attempt to invent methods they can use to prevent the feeling of loss of the loved one (Kail & Cavanaugh 2014). Children in this age group may also play-act death in war games, especially those who do not have the ability to express their feelings verbally. Such children may also develop manners of the deceased, for example, the performance of their duties such as caring for the siblings. This is aimed at creating a bond with them.

V. Before Adolescence (10-12 years)

Initially, children in this age group understand death in a similar manner as those junior to them but there are a few additions. They are involved in establishing their individual identities, improving their level of independence from adults while developing dependence on peers (Kane 1979). This stage is characterized by understanding of both the biological and emotional relationship between life and death. They are able to understand facts associated with the death of a person as well as their own feelings regarding death.

It is normal for children of this age group to try to conceal what they feel about the death of a person they knew so that they do not appear different from other people. They develop the fear that the expression of sad feelings may be regarded as weakness and thus lead to the removal from others (Lewis 1999). Theiir expression of grief may be in the form of anger or outbursts, irritability and mistreating of others. They may also be involved in fights, display variations in sleeping and eating characteristics, show indifference towards work, and become isolated from others (Linn 1982). Such children may also think about the practical issues surrounding death such as how their families would cope with the loss of a family member. They may also develop religious and cultural ideas about death.

2.2. Children’s Reactions to Death

One of the examples of how children may react to the death of a family member is the feeling of guilt for the occurrence. They may feel that they have contributed to the death in terms of their anger or thoughts that have made another person die (Lyman & Hembree-Kigin 1994). In some cases, they may consider death as a punishment. In order to assist children who have the feeling of guilt for the death of their family member, it is required to assure them that they are and will be loved. This may facilitate understanding of the circumstances under which death has happened. In other cases, children may have a feeling that they will die. It is important not to reinforce the idea that death is a form of punishment. Children should better be assured that the recent death of a family member does not imply that another member will die (McNamara 1994). It is required that children are encouraged to express their feelings and share them with others; however, it is obligatory to avoid imposing the feelings on children in this respect.

In addition, children may develop anger as a result of the death of a family member or a close relative. This is because the death of this particular person has causes sorrow. In some cases, children may feel angry at the doctor for not saving the life of the relative, or angry at themselves for not preventing death (Merrifield 1990). In most cases, it is not common to observe anger being directed at the dead. However, it is important to make every effort to ensure that children are helped to accept the feelings, and are not scolded at whenever they are angry about the loss of their family member.

Another form of reaction as a result of realizing the death of a family member is the regression to earlier stage of life involving bed wetting, sucking thumbs or the need for diapers (Mills 1993). It is vital to provide support to children at this stage so that they overcome these regressive behaviors. In addition, depression is a common reaction for children that have lost their loved ones. This is a condition that needs to be monitored so that it could be resolved by a professional, in case the state persists (Niethammer 2012). It is required that each child should deal with death individually, and it is expected that after six months following the death, the child should be able to overcome the feeling of depression. However, if the symptoms of depression persist, it is necessary to seek the assistance of the professional in the depression management field.

3. Research Methods

This study will involve selection of respondents who will answer the questions about the children’s understanding of death. The respondents will be obtained from early childhood learning centres and residential areas. It will involve the investigation of the children’s perceptions based on particular age groups. In order to achieve the aim, specimen of various age groups will be involved in the study. The specimen will be selected from various institutions of learning as well as from households. The selected respondents will be provided with research questions which will be asked during the survey.

The research design to be used during the study will be based on the qualitative analysis of the responses about the perceptions of death. Qualitative research is where the collected data include ideas and opinions of respondents with regards to the research questions (O’Connor & O’Connor 2004). For this study, the data collection will focus on how children understand the concept of death, and how they feel when a relative or a person close to them dies. The responses will be recorded in terms of age groups of respondents. In addition, the respondents will be asked to explain how they react when a person close to them dies. The results of the survey will be collected and analyzed so that a conclusion can be reached about the research questions and objectives.

3.1. Reliability and Validity Analysis

Reliability is the extent to which the data collected is close to the expected results (Peterkin 1992). The data collected will be assessed for reliability by establishing the relevance of the responses to the research questions. This will be done by comparing the answers provided, and establishing whether they answer the research questions. The data that is found to be unreliable will be left in the analysis stage.

Validity is the extent to which the data collected reflects the true condition of events that actually happen in the field of study (Pillitteri & Pillitteri 2010). In order to ensure validity of data, the collection process will involve a number of respondents so that the responses can be compared to establish the closeness in responses provided. The data that is found to be invalid will not be used in the analysis stage.

3.2. Methods of Analysis to Be Used

The analysis process will involve investigation of descriptive statistics of the participants such as mean, median and standard deviation. In addition, it will employ the correlation analysis that will assess the correlation of the responses within each age group and in relation to other groups. The analysis results will also be compared with the information about children’s idea of death illustrated in the literature review so that a conclusion can be reached about the research findings.