"Marsha Jacobson does parents a great favor."
“Am I Going To Die?” – 6 Ways To Help Your Child Deal with Death Anxiety
April 29th, 2015 ¦ Marsha Jacobson -
My grandson is almost three and along with “I do it!”, “No!” and “Mine!” one of his favourite words asked a hundred times a day is “Why?”
“Carsie, let’s go,” I’ll say on any given day.
“Why?”, he replies.
“Because we have to go to school.”
“Because it starts at 9.00 o’clock.”
Carson always wins this game, not that we don’t have answers each time, because we do. He wins because at this age the need to understand is new, exciting and knows no bounds and we exhaust more easily. These are easy questions. They have the power to annoy or irritate us but they don’t make us anxious. As our kids grow so does the depth of their curiosity. Some questions can make us uncomfortable, like early sex questions and then there are those that can make us feel like we’ve been punched in the gut, like, “Am I going to die?”
My oldest son was eight when he realized mortality. Over a few weeks, his anxiety escalated to crippling proportions and so did mine. I would hear the sound of his feet running to our bedroom and could easily distinguish between a “normal” run and one that spoke of terror. With the latter, by the time he reached my bedside, my anxiety would equal his. I had never before felt so out of control in my parenting. Still trying to be the best parent I could be, I would placate him and calm him. I would reassure him that he wasn’t going to die because he was young and neither were we until we were a hundred.
Overwhelmed by my own anxiety, I lovingly lied. I made things worse – a lot worse. After struggling for some time, we took him to a psychologist to help him, and after assessing my son, my husband and I, she told me that my son would be fine but that I had a problem. I was furious at first but she planted a seed that took hold and gradually grew. With four kids who all faced death anxiety to some degree, I had many opportunities to work on my approach. I became better each time and by the time I had to deal with my last child, I considered myself well-versed and while I am usually adamant that the words expert and parenting do not belong together, I consider myself somewhat of an expert in this particular area.
Not all children journey through death anxiety but there are many who do. For parents who struggle like I did, here are my words of wisdom:
As a mortal, I am truthfully more perplexed by children who do not experience fears around death. Many parents will, as I did, try and push these fears away because they make us afraid too. Pushing away any anxiety, let alone death anxiety, never works. It will resurface, maybe not in its original form, but most certainly as a limitation to your happiness. When you help your child face death anxiety head on, their own life force will find ways to deal with it and give it as little power as possible so that, over time, they can enjoy their life more than the anticipation of their death.