Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Child and Family Studies

Major Professor

Delores E. Smith

Committee Members

Priscilla W. Blanton, Heidi E. Stolz


Several factors have been documented as major factors affecting children’s formation of a mature death concept. Among these factors are the child’s age, cognitive ability, and exposure to death in his or her environment. The effects of parent communication patterns on children’s understanding of death have been understudied. This has left a gap in our knowledge of parents’ influence on their children’s conception of death.

In addition to the investigation of individual child factors, the present study investigated the relationship between mothers’ styles of communication about death and their children’s understandings of the subconcepts of death (i.e., inevitability, universality, finality, and nonfunctionality). Using Richardson’s (1991) Children’s Questions About Death Scale (CQADS), 37 mothers responded in writing to 16 questions about death that 5-year-old children are likely to ask. Their children (N= 37) responded orally to four yes-or-no questions about the subconcepts of death. The four dichotomous dependent variables, children’s understanding of each of the four subconcepts, were then regressed on maternal total score. Results showed significant relationships between a children’s age and their understandings of death, as well as children’s ability to seriate and their understandings of death. There was also a significant relationship between a a child’s experience death (human and/ or pet) and their understandings of death. There was no statistically relationship between maternal response competence and children’s understanding of death. Implications of the study and for future research are discussed.

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