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Nagera, H. (1970). Children's Reactions to the Death of Important Objects—A Developmental Approach. Psychoanal. St. Child, 25:360-400.

(1970). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 25:360-400

Children's Reactions to the Death of Important Objects—A Developmental Approach

Humberto Nagera, M.D.


In the first parts of this paper I discussed the various factors that determine children's reactions to object loss. The cases cited in the last part demonstrate some of the characteristic responses: the short sadness span; the incapacity to sustain mourning; the massive use of denial and reversal of affect; the inability to grasp the reality of death; the search for substitutes (before the event, if the child was aware of the oncoming death, and after, if he was not); the simultaneous (overt or insidious) symptom formation and the creeping character distortions; the fear of "contamination" causing their own death, often side by side with fantasies of reunion.

Whatever the immediate response, we can conclude that the loss of an important object represents a developmental interference. In the case of P., a normal child, it complicated the ongoing oedipal relationships and perhaps somewhat prematurely pushed the child into relinquishing them. In the case of the two older children who

were studied analytically, it was especially apparent that the personality changes introduced by the loss interfered with their subsequent development.

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