When do kids understand death?

When do kids understand death?




My five year old daughter is very affectionate and very considerate towards children and grownups. For this i have always thought she had a good understanding of emotions, but the other day i couldn’t help but feel a little deflated at Ava’s reaction when she found out that her new fish Crumb had died a day after her having him.

After winning Crumb at a local fayer,  Ava was thrilled to take him home to put in her fish tank along with her existing fish Biscuit (Very creative names for some fish don’t you think? it was Ava’s choice…i promise) So we done the whole new fish process. We cleaned the fish tank, made sure the water was the same temperature as the water in the bag the fish came in, then popped the fish still in the bag inside the tank, letting him swim out in his own time to meet his new room mate Biscuit. Eventually he swims in, and the two fish appear to be fine, not really taking an interest in each other.

It was about 23.30 and i was just getting ready to go up to bed when i thought to give the fish a pinch of food, and there was Crumb just floating on the top. I couldn’t believe it, we only just got him a few hours ago! I thought he was just in shock, so i scooped him out and put him into a mixing bowl full of water and left it over night. I was hoping that he was just playing dead, trying to recreate that scene out of Finding Nemo where they flush the fish down the toilet thinking he’s dead, but in fact he’s alive and swims back to the ocean!

That was totally not the case. The next morning he was as dead as a dodo, still floating in my mixing bowl. Ava came running in and went straight to the fish tank, and frantically started asking me where Crumb was. I lead her out the kitchen and told her that Crumb had died last night and then showed him to her. She immediately threw her arms around my neck and started to sob, shouting no. It was so heartbreaking, i even had tears in my eyes, but then she wiped her face, looked at me and said… “can you buy me another one? “

I said to her, “Ava, you do know Crumb has died” and she responded with “yes i know, but i really wanted to have 2 fish, and now i only have 1, so please can you buy me another one?”  I was completely dumbfounded. It was definitely not the reaction i thought i was going to get and It really got me thinking…Is it that my five year old daughter lacks empathy? or is it that she just simply does not understand death?

I got on to Google and started searching for answers, and found this:

 Children begin to grasp death’s finality around age 4. In one typical study, researchers found that 10 percent of 3-year-olds understand irreversibility, compared with 58 percent of 4-year-olds. The other two aspects of death are learned a bit later, usually between age 5and 7

So it seems about right, that now would be when Ava starts to understand death, but then again I’m 25 and i still have no understanding of it…and i doubt i ever will.  For now we shall continue to have only have 1 fish as i don’t want Ava to think that when something dies or gets broken, it can just be replaced. So, tonight’s agenda is fish flushing! We will send Crumb to heaven (or out to sea as Ava likes to put it)  He’ll be sleeping with the fishies!

Has anyone else been in a similar situation?



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