My Daughter Has Fear of Dying

"My child is very worried about death. How can I ease her mind?"
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Real World Worries

Q. "My daughter is 10 years old and feels that she is going to die at a young age. She believes that when she dies she will be all alone, and this frightens her. I have tried to talk with her about dying and I've told her that she won't be alone, but in heaven with other people. She has been to many funerals, so it's not as if she is unfamiliar with the concept. But this is not the first time she has had this feeling, so I am wondering if you have any suggestions on how I can help her overcome this fear."

A. When children are aged 3 to 8, their perception of the world is one of safety and security. They hear about horrific events, but they don't really grasp that bad things can happen to them. They feel secure in the belief that mommy and daddy will always be there to protect them. However, as a child's reasoning aptitude increases -- from ages 9 to 11 -- they soon come to learn that this belief isn't true. Around this time, children begin to understand that bad things can and do happen to people. They begin to make the connection that if bad things happen to other people, then they too are vulnerable, and it is this connection that often leads children to a period of worrying about their destiny. Children at this age have a concrete understanding of the possibility of death, but they don't realize that statistically the chances of something bad happening to them are slim.

A Time of High Anxiety

During the recent war in Iraq many children expressed their fears about death and dying. Some were anxious about nuclear attacks on the United States, fears that were directly related to the war. However, other children developed disconnected fears that were stirred up by anxiety about the war. Some feared being stricken with cancer and related life-threatening illnesses. And with all the media coverage of recent child kidnappings, many children have fears about being stolen away from their families. When parents hear of these fears it can be unsettling. Most parents feel lousy because it means the harsh realities of the "real" world are seeping in and pulling the rug of innocence from beneath their child's feet, and there's not much a parent can do about it. As tough as it is, it's a necessary part of childhood.

Continued on page 2:  Helping Her Cope


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