Death is something everyone will eventually encounter, yet American society has a tendency to avoid or deny death in everyday life and language. Death makes people uncomfortable, and many view it as a topic too complex for children to understand. Children, however, witness big and little deaths in their lives: of pets, relatives, plants, and favorite fairy tale characters. When a child experiences a death, he or she may have questions for parents or other trusted adults which our current avoidance-geared society does not prepare adults for. Children exist in a specific cultural context, and learn rules and expectations of society from an early age. How society views a subject like death will influence how it is talked about, experienced, and learned. Parents and families serve as the primary means of socialization for young children and hold a position of expertise within the parent-child dynamic. Both socio-cultural and personal beliefs about death will influence how a parent approaches death education with his or her child. Through examination of the sensemaking and sensegiving accounts of parent participants, this study sought to understand what the process is like for parents who are discussing the subject of death with their children, what goals and concerns parents have, what information a parent privileges as important within the social and historical context of the conversation, and what resources he or she accesses, if any, to assist with communication. By framing the participants' experiences as "making sense" of a social environment after an interruption, this study was able to investigate the processes of sensemaking and sensegiving in an interpersonal context between parent and child, the roles of Weick's (1995) characteristics of sensemaking, implicit and explicit messages relayed to children about death, and the influence of social scripts on both processes. Twelve semi-structured, in-depth interviews were conducted to gather accounts in context of parents who had previously discussed death with their children. Interviews were analyzed based on a modified constructivist grounded theory approach (Charmaz, 2006). The study was designed to remain as close to the relayed experience of the participants as possible with hope that information from the participants' experiences will be useful for both academics and parents as a future resource for preparing for parent-child communication about death.


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Graduation Date





Hastings, Sally


Master of Arts (M.A.)


College of Sciences



Degree Program

Communication; Interpersonal Communications









Release Date

August 2016

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Masters Thesis (Open Access)

Included in

Communication Commons