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7 Year Old Very Worried about Death

(12 Posts)
artichaut27 Mon 25-Feb-19 11:19:23

I have 2 possibly HP boys.

My oldest is 7 is dyspraxic and very experienced OT said he's very possible 2E. We're doing Cognitive in May.

He's very sensitive and very loving. He has had a phase of fearing death (his close family's death) at normal age (5 y/o) but it was nothing compared to what he's going through at the moment.

He has been dreading falling asleep for more than a month and won't fall asleep until 22.30 or 23.00. He's never been a big sleeper (8 hours max), but I'd like it if he slept more and was less anxious.

Lately, he has been crying in his bed at bedtime, which breaks my heart. He also is worried about it during daytime and has become very clingy. He is thinking pretty philosophically and speaking about ''he's not sure he exists, because he can't see himself and all he thinks is inside his head'' kinda thing.

I've read that this intensity and questioning was common in HP children.

Any experience of deep existential crisis at this age?

I am running out of ideas to soothe him. Any books/author you would recommend?

SerendipityReally Mon 25-Feb-19 13:00:10

Is it possible you're addressing it at too "high" a level? It's common at this age to not grasp how different sleep and death are - especially with the way we present death to children. Really nuts and bolts stuff can be very reassuring, eg listing all the things dead people can't do ever ever again. Feel, wake up, think, see, poo, grow, eat, move. Spell out in indelicate, bald detail how different death is from sleeping or bring in a coma. Bring it "down" to the prosaic and practical.

I think with children who seem ahead in terms of talking in the abstract, it's easy for adults to get caught up in that and forget that they lack the real life experience that they actually do need in order to make sense of it all. And that can be quite a scary place to be. You almost need to push the practical, nuts and bolts angle.

Also if there are question marks over possible ASD etc, sleep problems can go as part and parcel. Sometimes the child can't sleep because they can't sleep, then the anxiety builds while they are lying in the dark. Our first weapon tends to be routine adjustments. We don't fix the anxiety to improve sleep, we fix the sleep which improves the anxiety. Of course I'm over-simplifying, it normally ends up being a mix.

brilliotic Mon 25-Feb-19 13:47:15

Hi artichaut,

You imply that you have been trying to soothe him by various means, can I ask for an example?

I ask because faced with my children's worries about death and dying, I couldn't think of anything 'soothing' that wouldn't also be a lie/untruth/misinformation/require faith.

I think one problem is that many of us parents/adults in general, live in a fairly permanent state of cognitive dissonance with regards to death. We all know that death is unavoidable and unpredictable. And yet we live our daily lives as if we were never going to die, or as if we could be certain that our death/our children's death/our loved ones' death were far away in the future. Many routinely tell their children that we are not going to die, they are not going to die (perhaps qualified by 'until they are very very old' or some such).

I think that up to a certain extent, this is healthy too - we can't actually live normally if we are always worrying about dying. So we chuck all thoughts, considerations, feeling regarding death into a far corner of our mind, only to be brought out when actively confronted with death.

Some wise people might be able to hold the realities of death in their minds without being distressed/negatively affected by it.

But most children will go through phases of at first not understanding at all what death is, then becoming very anxious about it as the realities sink in, then learning that mental trick to 'believe' they (and their parents) are immortal whilst fully knowing that they will die one day, and that might be tomorrow. And eventually, perhaps, they will become wise and will perceive that death is not a bad thing.

Have you thought about/worked out what it is about death that is causing your DS such distress?
It may be the absolute lack of control, and unpredictability. (Does he struggle with control issues otherwise?)
It may be to do with abandonment and separation fears. (Does he struggle with separtion/attachment more generally?)
It may be existentialist despair, what is the meaning of life - stuff, tied to death. (FWIW, as a child when I had such an existentialist crisis, I more or less consciously tricked myself out of it. I asked myself, why am I here, what is the meaning of my life, of life in general anyway? Well, let's see, many people spend their whole lives trying to figure this out. Maybe that is exactly it- the whole point of our lives is to think about/figure out the 'meaning of life'! In which case, I've just done it. So now I am free to do with the rest of my life what I wish, without having to ponder the why anymore - ticked that box, so to say.)
It may be he has picked up a lot of 'Carpe Diem' type messages from popular culture and feels a pressure to live his life 'with a purpose', 'to the max', 'in today', ... and is thus worrying about potentially dying before having 'lived properly/in the way he desires/in the way he feels is expected of him'. Or another reason for being concerned about not living 'right' which could be terrible as you never know when life might be cut short.

With DS I had a lot of conversations revolving around 'sad, but not bad'. Yes it is sad when a loved one dies. But death is not a bad thing. Actually, if we want to give it a value at all, it is a good thing. There could be no life without death.

We also had many a talk about what the limits of our control mean for our daily, and big, decisions. Knowing that I might die tomorrow, or in 50 years, how does that affect my big and small choices? How do I want to 'be'? What is really important to me?

And further conversations where I made the issue explicit to him. No, we don't know when we will die, or what if anything comes after, or the 'why' of it all. There is nothing we can do about this. So how are we going to live with this? Are we going to let it worry us and make us anxious, or are we going to pretend it isn't true, or are we going to accept it and still find a way to live 'well'?

artichaut27 Mon 25-Feb-19 14:05:53

Thanks for your reply. It makes sense. I might try and talk about death again and contrast it with sleep. We've been avoiding engaging with the reality of death, and focused on sympathising with his sadness. But after a few weeks of it, we've been stuck in a rut.

He's always struggled with falling asleep. He has SPD which comes in his dyspraxia "package", so I made him a weighed blanket, which had seemed to help for a while. But he has started thinking about death at bedtime, and the hard fought for good habits are gone again.

The thing is that it worries him during the day as well. He talks about it at meals, when doing activities with him etc. It really is burdening his little mind. He says he loves us 50 times a day. There is a real sense of loss.

I mentioned it to his teacher who is great. She said he's been getting quieter than usual at school, she tried to talk to him. He said he was worried but didn't share why.

artichaut27 Mon 25-Feb-19 16:24:17

Thanks Brilliotic. By soothing, in a healthy way I mean to directly empathise with his feelings in the moment. In a maybe less helpful way, we have been feeding him a few cliches, as this has been going on for a while and we're ran out of creativity. I have the feeling that each time we make death seem banal, it inflames his anxiety, so we've been avoiding the conversation for a bit.

I have also tried to have a simple CBT/positive approach such as 'reasons to be grateful to be alive'. Works for me, but it didn't quite cut the cheese with him.

So I really need to prepare different new ways of talking about it with him that don't feed the beast of his fears.

SerendipityReally Mon 25-Feb-19 16:37:23

I think empathising is a really important thing to do (because I have read "How to Talk...") but you do also need to move on from that sometimes.

We read somewhere that the human brain can only hold 7 thoughts at the same time, so once we have listened we encourage DS to think of 7 nice things to move him on from the bad one (scary things, in his case). This wouldn't work at all with DD mind!

JustRichmal Tue 26-Feb-19 10:19:13

We don't fix the anxiety to improve sleep, we fix the sleep which improves the anxiety.

From experience, I have found this to be true. It is sort of counterintuitive. You could try getting him an audio book, so his mind can drift off into a story. Also low light levels for half an hour before bed tells the brain it is time to sleep.

SexNotJenga Tue 26-Feb-19 10:23:27

Take him to the GP.

What do HP and 2E mean? Also not sure what you mean by 'doing Cognitive'.

barryfromclareisfit Tue 26-Feb-19 10:27:36

Me. I had that. Didn’t really get ok with death until 50+. Faith helped. I think if you very gently build the idea that everything dies, it helps. The Buddhist story of Kisa Gotama can help but don’t go st

youmeandconchitawurst Tue 26-Feb-19 10:37:52

We had similar. I'm a bit of shit mum so I went with being totally honest. "Yes, everybody dies. Hopefully they'll live a long life, but sometimes it doesn't work out that way" (with family examples). I explained about how your heart stops beating and you stop breathing and they never start again. And that we either bury or cremate people and then put them in special places where we can go to visit them and think about them. I was totally blasé about it and went through it several times.

I second the thing about sleep - lack of sleep gets us into an anxiety vortex. We didn't do weighted blankets but he did have a total choice of bedding and fluffy companions - he is still in age inappropriate bedding and teddies and I don't give a shit because life's hard enough.

There's this thing called terror management theory you might want to look up - it's about how we suspend our disbelief about death but how 'mortality salience' can be encouraged by even simple things like thinking about what it can be like to die (they usually use a written prompt). When I used to put him down to sleep I'd check in on what he was intending to dream about and do the same thing with night wakings. "Granny's fruit cake", "next door's cat", "all the different birds we saw in this morning". I used to 'salt' his imagination to get it on track. Nothing about school, nothing about friends, nothing about dead people. Might be worth a try.

artichaut27 Tue 26-Feb-19 10:46:11

Thanks JustRichmal we have tons of sleeping strategies (audiobooks, books, weighted blanket, meditation, massage etc.) It works for a while, and then his fear catches up with just as he drifts off. Dyspraxia and SPD are partly responsible for his 'insomnia'.

But also, he is very creative and visual, with a vivid/galloping imagination, which has always been a problem at bedtime. He really struggles to switch off.

Oddly last night he fell asleep without drama. I think Spring and more time spent outdoors is tiring him enough.

Thanks SexNotJenga. I texted a friend who is a psychologist and she did recommend to see a child therapist for a few sessions to alleviate his angst. So if it persists I might just do that.

My friend said some children experience these normal phases of development more intensely.

HP stands for high potential. 2E is the American version of 'dual exceptional' ie. gifted/talented with special needs. My DS1 has dyspraxia but he is always been described as very bright and talented by experienced professionals. My DS2 (4 and 1/2) is ahead of his peers but he's much more logical and pragmatic.

We're doing a cognitive assessment with an Educational Psychologist which is a psychometric test (WISC). Hopefully it will show his weaknesses and strength so we can understand his needs better!

artichaut27 Tue 26-Feb-19 10:55:09

Thanks '*wurst*' Being atheist, I didn't really know what to say about death, when he started asking. We've been pretty clinical and matter of fact about it. But then we realised it didn't console him.

Brilliant tip about 'terror management theory', that's right up my alley. We haven't tried this yet. I'm reading a French philosopher of education at the moment with similar principles for memory, attention, etc, which I'm using to help him with his learning. This should fit in nicely. Thanks!

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