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My 7 year old son has just figured out that everyone is going to die, and he is upset in the extreme now, vacillating between forbidding any talk of dying as it makes him too sad, and asking incessant questions about death and making declarations concerning death ("I never want to get any older; I don't want you or daddy to get any older"). He's upset enough that he was literally trembling tonight in bed, and has already woken from a nightmare within two hours of falling asleep. He's an intense, sensitive and gifted child, who also has had a language disorder, so some of his emotional development is still slightly behind his peers. We've been talking about death with him honestly (as we perceive it in our non-religious household), and gently. Is there anything we can do to lessen the shock of learning and coping with this? Or do we just have to ride it out?


Pamela Waterman Replied: For a non-religious household, you can focus on the fantastic things he likes to do and how he makes the world a better place - his hobbies, his favorite books, maybe drawing or building - the creative side of living. Make sure you do not say that someone "has gone to sleep forever" as that will really be scary! Accurate words are best. You can acknowledge his statements, (Yes, someday a long time from now we will all die) but say, "I like to make sure that every day I do good and fun things as much as possible. How about you?" Ask him, "What are the kinds of things that you like to do now, and what new things would you like to try?" Steer him into productive/helpful/healthful activities. Does he have a special friend you could have him do more things with? Is there a long-term project you could start together, like building a treehouse or a model car or learning to bake or start drawing to illustrate his own book (maybe online?) Again, acknowledge that although none of us can stop getting older, we get to do more things when we *are* older, and isn't that cool? Small steps, small projects, and the chance for him to make some new decisions may help him see that making the most of every day we have is a positive approach. At nighttime, is there a change you make? add a nightlight, add soft music, leave a "Guard Bear" at his doorway, let him have books and a flashlight (they make ones that shut off automatically) with him. Lastly, yes, this is a stage - one more parenting challenge, but kindness and hugs (if he allows them) will help. Best wishes.
Posted On 2011-01-18 10:26:01
Debra Brooks Replied: You did not discuss the "whys" and "hows" of your son's discovery, but many times children will become afraid of dying once they have figure out that death is a permanent thing, this usually happen when they have experienced losing someone close to them. Assure your child that you understand. After all, you are asking him to understand and deal with something that even some adults have a hard time dealing with. Do not tell your child that people "go to sleep". This can cause nightmares or fear at bedtime. Continue to talk to him honestly, giving him support and assurance when he needs it. Even with several conversations your son may still have questions. Be patient with him. I know that sometimes this process can seem endless, but hang in there, this stage should past. Sometimes you have to do just as you said….. "ride it out".
Posted On 2011-01-17 19:20:45
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