When Do Kids Realize They’re Going to Grow Up?
This video is so cute it actually hurts a little: A 5-year-old girl named Sadie loses her mind upon realizing that her beloved baby brother will not actually stay a baby forever. “OH MY GOSH! I want him to stay little,” she wails. Soon, her concerns shift from her brother to herself and her own mortality: “And I don’t wanna die when I’m a hundre-e-e-e-e-ed!”
Judging from the tiny girl’s shock, it seems like it’s the first time she’s fully grasped the grim realities of aging and death — which brings up some really interesting questions about psychology and child development. When do young children start to figure out aging, and what do they understand about it?
Related: Shopping is Good For Babies
Research suggests that kids do understand that they’re going to grow up — but they also misunderstand the mechanics of the aging process in the most adorable way possible: According to a study by Israeli researchers Rama Klavir and David Leiser, children between the ages of 3 and 5 seem to think that birthday parties cause aging.
The researchers asked about 100 kids, ages 3 to 9, a series of questions to gauge their understanding. In one of the questions, they described this scenario to the children:
“A child’s birthday was celebrated when he was 1 year old. Then when he was 2, they celebrated his birthday again; and the year after, when he was 3, they also celebrated his birthday. But the next year, the year after he was 3, his mother got sick and could not give him a birthday party. So he was very sad because he did not know how old he was. In your opinion, how old was he?”
Related: 59 Percent of Kids Use Social Media
Some of the youngest children, all under 5, gave answers like, “He will still only be 3 years old because he didn’t have a birthday party” and “If next year he won’t have a birthday party? He, he—he won’t grow up.” Then, the researchers told the children that the mother in the story felt so bad for being sick on her son’s birthday that she gave him several birthday parties to make up for it. The answers from the littlest kids in the group again hinted at the magic of the birthday party: They thought that if the child had multiple birthday parties in a year, his age would increase accordingly.