Son's obession with death

by Paul V. Johnson

Dear Paul, I have a unique situation (at least I think it is). My 9-year-old son is obsessed with death. He's very afraid of his own death, grandma's and grandpa's death, my death, and anyone that he loves. He hasn't had anyone close to him die, not even a pet. He sobs at night thinking of thoughts of death, thoughts of the unknown. We are Catholic, so I try to reassure that there is a heaven and it a very good place to be. We have read the book about Freddy the Leaf, and he tells me that he is afraid, too, like Freddy about dying. Can you make any recommendations...books, discussions, should we see a counselor? Concerned Mom Dear Concerned Mom, Thanks for writing and seeking some help for your son and his apparent obsession for things related to death. Such thoughts can be overwhelming, especially for a 9-year-old, and he is very fortunate in having a mom who is seeking out help for him. You didn't mention this, but it would be helpful to know how long these fears have been active and if something specific seemed to initiate them. Even though no one close to him has died, maybe something he has seen or heard has triggered some irrational fears. I would encourage you to keep talking with him and exploring his thoughts and fears related to death and dying. Even though he may not be able to verbalize the source of his fears, I would encourage you to keep asking him so that he keeps talking about it. It could also be that the unfamiliarity he has with death has allowed his mind to fabricate all kinds of irrational thoughts. Your continued availability and willingness to talk with him will be very helpful in sorting out these fears. At this point, I don't think that dealing with his fears needs to be done through counseling. I would suggest instead that you do whatever you can to help him become more familiar with death- related ideas and experiences. Taking him to visit a local funeral home might be one way to start helping him become more comfortable with death-related issues. It would also be wise to check with his teachers to see if they have noticed behavioral changes in him at school that may be related to his fears about death. If after several more months he still carries irrational fears about his own death or that of others, then it may be appropriate to seek outside professional help. Parents find it very difficult to see their child struggle with these issues. Continuing to spend time with him, holding him close, and expressing your love for him will provide excellent support for him as he works through these fears and develops a way to cope with them. Best wishes, Paul