Dying preschool-age children: Coping with death through a process of meaning making

Kazuko Takeuchi (2008)

This theoretical dissertation involves an interdisciplinary exploration of preschool-age terminally ill children's understanding of their impending death and meaning-making ability, with the explicit rationale of addressing the relevant gap in psychological literature. In traditional developmental psychology, preschoolers are believed not to accurately understand the concept of death. However, very young dying children have been observed to demonstrate mature understanding of the concept and to find a purpose in their death. Using existing conceptualizations of healthy and dying young children's perception of death, this paper suggests that preschoolers can develop a more sophisticated understanding of death when faced with their own impending death. This paper examines some of the existing research on preschool-age children's development in cognition, identity, morals, and faith. This author will then deconstruct the existing theory drawing from the life-stories and reflections of people working with young dying children as well as from relevant interdisciplinary research findings. This paper proposes a new way of looking at dying preschoolers positing that they are able not only to accurately perceive the concept of death, but also to be capable of finding a meaning in their deaths. Their accelerated maturation enables them to live their remaining days in peace and dignity. This paper further proposes a new theoretical framework that supplements the existing theories of child development by accounting for dying children's capacity for a mature understanding of death. Implications of a comprehensive understanding of dying children's inner world, including clinical practice, are presented. The study concludes with a discussion of the ways to meet dying children's special needs as death approaches.