Children's Near-Death Experiences
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Do children have NDEs?
Yes. Our best research so far indicates that about 85% of
children who experience cardiac arrest have an NDE. With
improving cardiac resuscitation techniques, more and more children
are surviving cardiac arrest. More children who have had NDEs
are alive today than ever before, and the number is likely to
increase because of improved resuscitative techniques.
Apparently, youngsters of any age can have an NDE. Very young
children, as soon as they are able to speak, have reported NDEs
they had as infants or in the process of being born.
What types of NDEs do children have?
P.M.H. Atwater studied over 270 child NDErs. She found that:
- 76% reported a comforting "initial" experience. Such
experiences involved up to three elements, things like a loving
nothingness, a friendly voice, a visitation by a loving being, an
out-of-body experience, and/or the peacefulness of either a safe
light or safe dark place
- 19% reported a pleasurable or heaven-like experience
- 3% reported a distressing or hell-like experience
- 2% had a "transcendent" experience in which they felt they
acquired special knowledge.
Following is an example of the most commonly reported type of
childhood NDE, the "initial" experience. In an episode of
meningitis, a six-yearold reported being out of her body with a
sense of being completely free of pain and totally surrounded by
love. She reported feeling like a soul neither boy nor girl,
neither grown-up nor child. She felt a sense of absolute
peace and completeness. When she looked down, she saw a girl
lying in bed and empathized with her pain. On reflection, she
realized she must be that girl, and with that thought, she was back
in her body.
How do children's NDEs compare to adults' NDEs?
The same features reported by adult NDErs have been reported also
by child NDErs. However, by comparison to adults' NDEs,
- tend to include fewer features
- tend to be more concrete and less complex than those of
adults. However, children can have complex experiences,
including features such as otherworldly scenery and a life
- more often include visitation by a deceased pet or other
animal, relatives unknown to the child, and occasionally people who
What changes typically occur in children following an NDE?
Like adults, children often show profound changes after an
NDE. Common changes include:
- altered biological patterns, such as amount of sleep,
attentiveness, etc. increased interest in universal love
rather than love of specific people
- a lessening of the parent/child bonding. The NDEr may be
less demonstrative of feelings in the family. increased
sensitivity to others' feelings
- distress from news reports and violence on TV and in
- increased interest in being of service to others
- increased interest in spirituality
- develop a hunger for knowledge and anything philosophical which
often leads to unusual choices of reading material for their
- often appear much more mature than children of their own
- difficulty relating to children of their own age
- communication with spirits, often labeled by children as angels
or guides, and by parents as imaginary friends
- increased sensitivity to medications, bright light, and loud
- a strong desire to volunteer for charitable causes.
Possible changes can include:
- increased intelligence
- different ways of perceiving, including synesthesia (smelling
color, seeing sounds, etc.)
- increased psychic ability
- "learning reversal" in which learning abstract concepts is
easier than learning concrete details (unlike most children who
learn concrete more easily than abstract.)
Unlike adults, changes in values may not be so obvious, partly
because children's values are not already well formed, and partly
because they do not verbalize their values to the extent that
What are the phases of adjustment after a childhood NDE?
PMH Atwater has suggested that children go through five stages in
the aftermath of an NDE:
- withdrawal and internal adjustment. In addition to the
adjustment to the effects of the NDE, most children are also
recovering from the physical illness or trauma that led to the
- realignment with friends and family; seeking ways to be of
service in the world. It may be that, during this phase, up
to 1/3 of the children get involved in the use of alcohol or drugs
because of the discrepancy between the NDE and the reality of the
world around them.
- balancing internal with external. During this time of
great gain, the person is likely to develop greater
self-confidence, affirm a sense of spiritual and moral values, and
begin a career of service to others.
- a time of discouragement. Sensing the disparity between
their values and those of the prevailing culture, the childhood
NDEr can lose heart and become depressed. It is during this
time that the childhood NDEr may be prone to attempt suicide.
- deep integration of the NDE. During this phase, the NDEr
finds the confidence to live in the world from their own
perspective that is congruent with the values of the NDE.
How can caregivers help a childhood NDEr?
Caregivers play a crucial role in helping a childhood NDEr cope
with the aftermath of the NDE. Following are some suggestions
for caregivers to use in supporting the childhood NDEr.
- If a child has experienced a cardiac arrest, be alert to the
likelihood that the child had an NDE.
- Listen, listen, listen. Be prepared to hear and show
receptivity if/when a child describes near-death-like
- Express understanding of topics that may be difficult to
discuss. These can include the child's ambivalence about
returning to their body and/or the child's communication with
spirits. Trust the child's reality, and respect the child's
- GENTLY ask open-ended questions.
- Help the child discern when and with whom it is safe to talk
about their NDE-related experiences. Anticipate changes in
- Be prepared to guide the child through the changes and phases
- Become knowledgeable about NDEs through reading, talking with
- Be prepared to support the child's increased interest in
spirituality that may be expressed through increased church
attendance, desire for prayer and grace, and desire for an altar in
- Expect the child to initiate deep conversations about meaning
and purpose in life.
- Consider encouraging the child to write and/or draw about both
their NDE and adjustment process. For parents, consider
keeping a journal to share with the child at a later date.
- Some characteristics and ways to respond to "highly sensitive
children" may be applicable to childhood NDErs (see "Recommended Resources" below).
- Be alert for signs of significant difficulty adjusting after
the NDE: withdrawal, depression, alcohol/drug abuse, and/or
suicidal tendencies. In these cases, consider seeking
professional help from a counselor knowledgeable about NDEs.
Art and music therapy may be particularly helpful. If the
child is age 2-10, play therapy may be especially appropriate.
- Participate in volunteer activities with the child if you are
- Teach them visualization techniques so that they can revisit
pleasurable aspects of the NDE (without the physical circumstances
that accompanied it.)
Aron, E (2002).
The highly sensitive child. New York: Broadway.
Atwater, P. M. H., L.H.D. (2003). The New Children and Near-Death
Experiences. Rochester, Vermont: Bear &
Atwater, P. M. H. with Morgan, D. H.
(2000). The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Near-Death
Experience. Indianapolis, IN: Alpha Books.
with Perry, P. (1990). Closer to the Light: Learning from the Near-Death
Experiences of Children. New York: Ballantine.
Morse, M (1994). Transformed by the
light. New York: Ballantine.
Ring, K. &
Valarino, E. E. (1998). Lessons from the light: What We Can Learn from the
Near-Death Experience. Portsmouth, NH: Moment
Besides this web site, there are those of PMH Atwater and Melvin Morse