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No need to whisper: Acquisition of the death concept by terminally ill children

26 July 2006


This thesis reviews literature published from 1983 - 2000 on death conceptualization in terminally ill children. The literature addresses differences among physically healthy, chronically ill, and fatally ill children's understanding of death. Two research perspectives are reviewed: a) normative cognitive development determines death conceptualization b) death related experiences provide a unique course of acquisition. Differences appear when results are analyzed by specific death subconcepts - universality, irreversibility, and personal mortality - and by age group (3 - 6 years old). Additionally, terminally ill children express feelings of isolation, death anxiety, and healthy denial that potentially confound research design. This thesis suggests that research from both perspectives and consideration of confounding factors have practical application to the psychological care of terminally ill children.


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