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Near-Death Experiences

Understanding Children’s Near-Death Experiences

These experiences are a seldom-explored phenomenon.

Key points

  • The major focus for near-death experience research has been on adults.
  • Studies have shown that children’s NDEs have similar components to those of adults.
  • Children are strongly impacted by the experiences and often have difficulty processing what happened to them.

In 1975, Raymond Moody introduced the world to the term near-death experience (NDE) in his book Life After Life. Since then, much has been uncovered about these experiences from research and personal accounts from around the world. The primary focus of these experiences has been on adults. Indeed, most people are probably unaware that children also can have NDEs. However, what information there is on children's experiences is limited. The 1980s and 1990s saw books written on the subject. However, more recently there has been limited research on children's NDEs, even as research and information about adult NDEs continues.

Melvin Morse was perhaps the first to write about children's NDEs in a 1985 article in the American Journal of Diseases in Children.[1] As with most of the early work on NDEs, the focus was primarily on personal accounts; in this case, of four children. The findings showed that the children had experiences similar to adults in that they reported being out of the body, in a tunnel, and seeing figures dressed in white. In 1990, Morse published his book Closer to the Light, which included more anecdotal accounts of children’s experiences and found, as with adults, that one must be close to death to have the experience and that just being unconscious does not produce an NDE.[2]

Jeff Long, co-founder of the Near Death Experience Research Foundation (NDERF), has been collecting accounts of NDEs since 1989 and has amassed thousands of experiences from around the world, of both adults and children. On a larger scale, Long researched the content of NDEs for children 5 years and under and 6 years and older. His findings further indicated that the NDE core content of the very young was the same as the content of older children and adults. They include out-of-body experiences (OBEs), bright lights, and tunnels.[3] Long’s findings were further supported by Sutherland’s[4] extensive review of 30 years of data that indicated age is not a variable that impacts the content of an NDE. These are interesting findings, given that very young children do not have preexisting knowledge, expectations, or beliefs that might contribute to the content of their experiences. Long believes that this strongly suggests that NDEs occur separately from any religious or cultural beliefs or awareness of what characterizes an NDE. Both children and adults are deeply impacted by these experiences, and it remains a vivid memory for them even years later. According to Bruce Greyson[5], those who have an NDE can accurately remember it for over two decades. Having an NDE also changes those who experience it. There are multiple after-effects, but perhaps the most common one for adults is a loss of the fear of death. Some others include having a new awareness of meaning and purpose in life and becoming more caring and loving.

For children, it seems as though reintegration into life is more difficult, as they often do not have the verbal skills to express or understand what has happened to them. For example, P.M.H. Atwater, another child NDE researcher,[6] talks about the experience of a child who was deeply saddened and distressed when she perceived her return to her body as a rejection and abandonment by those who had shown her love. She questioned why they had left her and wondered if it was because she was “bad.”

Atwater states that it can take 7 to 10 years for an adult to integrate an NDE into their life. Children, however, do not typically integrate their experience for 20 to 40 years. Regardless of age, adults and children are confronted with psychological, physical, social, and behavioral changes. Children are often confused about what has happened to them. They feel different from their peers and often from their family as well. Much of the research on children’s NDEs has come from retrospective studies of adults who had NDEs as a child. In 2011, Morse published the results of his interviews and assessments in Transformed by the Light.[7] These adults exhibited a much lower fear of death compared to others who had not experienced an NDE, regardless of the length of time since the experience. They exhibited an enthusiasm for life as well as a feeling that they have a purpose in life.

If you are a parent or a professional working with a child who has had an NDE, it is important to familiarize yourself with NDE literature. There are many books—and websites such as and—that share information and resources for anyone interested in adult and/or children’s NDEs. When talking with a child or an adult, it is important to be attentive and nonjudgmental. Since the young child may not have the verbal skills to talk about their experience, using drawings, painting, and play can help them express what they cannot put into words. They should be reassured that this is not an unusual occurrence and that others have had similar experiences. Providing accurate information about the experience is important. Both the child and their family need to be supported as they go through this process.

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1) Morse, M., Conner, D., and Tyler, D. (1985) Near death experiences in a pediatric population: A preliminary report. doi:10.1001/archpedi. 1985 02140080065034.

2) Morse, M. and Perry, Paul (2023 ) Closer to the Light: Learning from the Near-Death Experiences of Children. Reprinted by Sakkara Books

3) Long, J. and Perry,P. (2010) Evidence of the Afterlife: The Science of Near-Death Experiences. New York: Harper Collins;136-139

4) Sutherland, C. Trailing clouds of glory: the near-death experiences of western children and teens” In Holden, JM, Greyson, B, and James D,eds. The Handbook of Near-Death Experiences: Thirty Years of Investigation. Santa Barbara, Ca: Praeger Publishers; 2009:93.

5) Greyson, B. (2007). Consistency of NDE accounts over two decades: Are reports embellished over time?” Resuscitation 73:407-411.

6) Atwater, P.M.H. (1996) Children and the Near Death Phenomenon: Another Viewpoint. Journal of Near Death Studies 15(1) Fall 1996 pp 1-15.

Morse, M. and Perry, P. (2011) Transformed By The Light. Villard

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