The Problem of Children’s Understanding of Death



The article reviews British-American tradition of 60 years of research of children’s understanding of death. The problem of age stages in formation of scientific notion of death (S. Antony, M. Nagy, A. Gessell) and the factors of its development in ontogenesis (А. Mauer, M. McIntire, I. Orbach, G. Koocher, S. Shonfield, S. Smilansky, V. Slaughter, E. White). The rupture of the ideas of consistent developmental stages in this process is proved. The recent shift from such methods as play observations and open questions to more standardized methods, that provide comparable results, is described. The article gives generalized results of studying “mature” concept of death as a complex of the following sub-notions: “irreversibility” (impossibility of revival), “end of functioning” (impossibility of physical and mental activity), “universality” (totality, inevitability and abruptness of death) and “causality”(abstract and realistic understanding of reasons of death). The problem of development of understanding of personal mortality is outlined. Several approaches to it are characterized though none of them has satisfactory grounds at the moment.

General Information

Keywords: understanding of death, developmental psychology, sub-notions of scientific notion of death, stages and factors of development of children’s understanding of death, “worsening” of scientific notion of death in the process of growing up, psychological defenses.

Journal rubric: Developmental Psychology

For citation: Gavrilova T.A. The Problem of Children’s Understanding of Death [Elektronnyi resurs]. Psikhologicheskaya nauka i obrazovanie [Psychological Science and Education], 2009. Vol. 1, no. 4 (In Russ., аbstr. in Engl.)


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Information About the Authors

Tatiana A. Gavrilova, PhD in Psychology, Associate Professor, Head of the Department of Applied Psychology, Ussuriisk State University, Russia, e-mail:



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