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Question
Posted by: Jojo | 2010-01-21

Child with fear of death

My 4 year old son has suddenly developed a terror of dying. Constantly asking questions about God and heaven. Just after Christmas he asked about old people dying when they grow too old &  suddenly had a total meltdown and was sobbing his little heart out. He begged me to pray that God wouldn' t let him die. When I tried to calm him down &  said that we all die eventually, but we go to heaven he would not be calmed.
Then just as suddenly (as kids do) he was fine and didnt'  mention it for another 10 days or so.
The other night he then mentioned death again &  was going on about he must eat his supper or he' ll die. Start sobbing again &  saying he doesn' t want to die.

He has this absolute fear of dying and as his mother I just don' t know how to calm him down.

My niece of 10 weeks died in October of SIDS and although he didn' t show much emotion about it he might have harboured some fear from that. Although I can' t be sure.

How do you discuss this with a child and explain to him it' s a part of life without him being hysterical or distressed. It really upsets us to see him like this as he' s normally a very happy little boy, albeit a little sensitive.

Any advice for a worried mommy?

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Our expert says:
Expert ImageCyberShrink

This is actually more common than most people realize or expect. The death of your niece is pobably very relevant - and it gave him proof that even kids die, and not only old people ( though that is also frightening, because Mom and Dad are usually classified by kids as "old people".
Children's view of death, and indeed the ways in which they are even capable of understanding it, develop with age. Early on, life is associated with moving, and death with being motionless. Death is seen as undesirable, but not necessarily, at first, as irreversible - and they may be distressed to discover that someone who has died will NEVER come back to tea.
It is apt to include some discussion of the family's religious views, though these are often less comfortiong than we expect - children's capacity to understand and be comforted by the rather abstract religious views we offer them, in contrast to their very realistic and practical view of things, is significant.
Oddly, only this mornin, a friend sent me some children's comments she had collected. One of them was as follows : " A father was at the beach with his children when the four-year-old son ran up to him, grabbed his hand, and led him to the shore where a seagull lay dead in the sand. 'Daddy, what happened to him?' the son asked. 'He died and went to Heaven,' the Dad replied. The boy thought a moment and then said, 'Did God throw him back down?'

You're a really good mom ; continue to use what opportunities these distresses provide to comfort him. Always remember to explore what he thinks about death, etc., before offering your views - sometimes you discover they have extraordinary ideas you might otherwise never hear of.

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

2
Our users say:
Posted by: Purple | 2010-01-22

I went through the same with my son around a year ago when he' d just turned 5. Cybershrink' s comments also helped us get through it.

They continue to ask questions about death but that panicy feeling seems to become more controlled as they get older.

What sparked ours was our cat dying. He still talks about her and is distressed that she doesn' t have her body with her in heaven.

Hang in there, you' re doing the right things and he is all the better for the comfort you are giving him.

I' m sorry to hear about your niece, that must be so traumatic for all of you.

Reply to Purple
Posted by: cybershrink | 2010-01-21

This is actually more common than most people realize or expect. The death of your niece is pobably very relevant - and it gave him proof that even kids die, and not only old people ( though that is also frightening, because Mom and Dad are usually classified by kids as "old people".
Children's view of death, and indeed the ways in which they are even capable of understanding it, develop with age. Early on, life is associated with moving, and death with being motionless. Death is seen as undesirable, but not necessarily, at first, as irreversible - and they may be distressed to discover that someone who has died will NEVER come back to tea.
It is apt to include some discussion of the family's religious views, though these are often less comfortiong than we expect - children's capacity to understand and be comforted by the rather abstract religious views we offer them, in contrast to their very realistic and practical view of things, is significant.
Oddly, only this mornin, a friend sent me some children's comments she had collected. One of them was as follows : " A father was at the beach with his children when the four-year-old son ran up to him, grabbed his hand, and led him to the shore where a seagull lay dead in the sand. 'Daddy, what happened to him?' the son asked. 'He died and went to Heaven,' the Dad replied. The boy thought a moment and then said, 'Did God throw him back down?'

You're a really good mom ; continue to use what opportunities these distresses provide to comfort him. Always remember to explore what he thinks about death, etc., before offering your views - sometimes you discover they have extraordinary ideas you might otherwise never hear of.

Reply to cybershrink

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