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Von Hug-Hellmuth, H. (1965). The Child's Concept of Death. Psychoanal Q., 34:499-516.

(1965). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 34:499-516

The Child's Concept of Death

Hermine Von Hug-Hellmuth, M.D.

No event among the abundant phenomena of human life is insignificant for the child. In particular the beginning and end of life, the entrance and exit of individuals, are inexhaustible sources of his 'whys' and 'wherefores'. Once he is aware of the eternal riddle of life, he pursues it as the goal of all investigation, playful and serious. For in life and death, he sees love and hate, cruelty and pity joined to each other. The little child that laughingly crushes a worm underfoot picks it up with careful fingers to reunite the quivering parts, and he is genuinely sad that his attempts are unsuccessful. The child senses so strongly the mental superiority of human beings over every other creature that he ascribes to himself, without further thought, power over life and death. Sometimes, being dead may mean a state of sleep from which one can be easily awakened; at other times, it may mean being far away but able to return at will. This friendly view of death comes largely from fairy tales, which regularly make up for horrors and cruelty with a happy ending. As soon as the hero or heroine is wakened from death by the kiss of a good fairy or a sword-bearing knight, sadness and mourning are converted to wedding celebrations and happiness. And when some fairy-tale figure does not arise from his bloody death, the child's fantasy sees in this the deserved punishment for serious crimes. For this reason some children with a nervous tendency are afraid of death when they feel guilty for some misdeed.

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