Near-Death Experiences in Childhood and Their Lifelong Impact

Near-Death Experiences in Childhood and Their Lifelong Impact

This content is posted with permission by Dr. PMH Atwater. Her blog, Q & A with PMH Atwater, can be found HERE.

Pink CLouds
Photo by Sam Dan Truong

A newspaper headline of March 2015 reads:  “Toddler Dead For 101 Minutes Is Now Alive.”  The news clip told of a Pennsylvania toddler who was pulled from an icy creek.  No pulse.  No breathing.  No neurological function.  Yet the child came back to life – unscathed.

Children, like the toddler in the newspaper clipping, typically see the dead, have conversations with angels, manifest stunning psychic abilities, have future memory, see and hear what is invisible to anyone else, and know things beyond their years.  Usually parents, relatives, friends, school teachers, ministers turn off child experiencers – either by making fun of them, telling them to shut up, claiming it’s just their imagination, or demeaning any notion of seeing and talking with “invisibles” or suddenly “knowing” things.  Even today, some churches still brand the near-death phenomenon as “the work of the devil.”  For that reason, the majority “keep it secret,” repressing or tucking away what happened to them, convinced that they are somehow “alien.”  Unbelievable but true, a number of retirees in this new study said nothing to anyone for seventy to eighty years.  When they were told they could at last say whatever they wanted and it was okay, some cried, others flooded my office with “forbidden” memories.

Yes, I said retirees.

This is my second study of child experiencers.

The first was done in the eighties and nineties and published in the book, The New Children and Near-Death Experience.  [A smaller version came out earlier under the title Children of the New Millennium – and was printed in The Netherlands by Sigma in 2000].  Over the years since, I tried to find someone else to do this type of study as I had found anomalies that troubled me.  No one did.  So, three years ago I tackled the project again. . . only this time I went after those in their 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s who could validate having had a near-death experience between birth and age five.  My question:  Did having a near-death experience at such an early age make any difference in your life?  If it did, what?  Basically, I was asking for an essay.  The response was overwhelming.  Read The Forever Angels:  Near-Death Experiences in Childhood and Their Lifelong Impact, and be as surprised as I was.

First study:  277 people, from kindergarten age on up – forward looking.  Second study:  120 people, most of them mature – looking backward.  

Said Dr. Bruce Greyson:  This strategy gives us an unprecedented “long view” of how NDEs influence these children over the entire course of their lives.  There is no other book like this, nor is there likely to be one. 

Pink clouds and blue sky
Photo by Szabo Viktor

The three basic human drives that propel all of humankind are identity, community, and purpose.  What happens to children who grow up with an entirely different view of these three concepts?  What happens to those with womb memory and of other worlds beyond this one?  What happens to those who clearly and in detail remember their birth?  What happens to the youngest of the young who know, absolutely know, their parents are not their parents – that they belong elsewhere?  What happens when tiny ones bond to the other side and not with their parents – nor do they fit in with siblings?  What happens when the innocent know more, feel more, see more, remember more than any child could or should?

The very youngest experiencers of near-death states are not like older children, teens, or adults, because they don’t have a “before” – at least not in this world.  They emerge as outliers, called upon to create and invent unique ways of living and loving.  These children have more to show us than anyone ever imagined.

Jan’s earliest memories (case 7):  “As a toddler, I often ‘dreamed’ of my older and younger brothers.  My older brother had died before he was born.  It was not the time for my younger brother to be conceived.  Conceptually, as a toddler, I could not understand where either one of them were when I woke up each morning.  I would see my older brother, John, at the foot of my bed before I went to sleep and sometimes, he and my younger brother were with me when I slept.  I spent many mornings looking all over the house for the two of them, followed by many questions to Mom about where they were.  Later I found out Mom had a miscarriage before my older sister was born.  The baby had been a boy they had named John.  This was verification of who I had seen.  I was told I went through this ‘annoying’ behavior of looking for my brothers for several years before my baby brother was actually conceived and born.  I stopped asking where John was after my little brother arrived.”  

In doing this study, I quickly learned that although adults and children display similar patterning with scenarios and aftereffects, they are worlds apart in how the phenomenon affects them both at the moment of and over time.  

beautiful pink clouds
Photo by ullas us

Here’s the typical process of development for young children:  Birth to fifteen months is when the actual wiring of the brain is determined and synapse formation increases twentyfold.  This process utilizes twice the energy of an adult brain.  Between three and five years old is the time of temporal lobe development, where the child explores and experiments with possible roles, future patterns, and the continuity of their environment.  All of this, what is regarded as typical for child brain development, seems somehow jumpstarted in near-death cases.  The birth to fifteen months group, for instance, consistently showed the strongest evidence for genius – without genetic markers to account for it.  

Adults and children display similar patterns with scenarios and aftereffects.  But they are worlds apart in how the phenomenon affects them.  Most adults eventually integrate what happened in about 7 to 10 years.  Typical children do not integrate for 20 to 40 years. . . because the average child compensates or adjusts when something seems not to fit.  Kids do not look for the meaning behind what is happening.  Rather than dealing with it, they will change things around, thus compensating instead of integrating.  Even into the mature years, that puzzle isn’t solved.  

We missed it.  Most of us, including me, are fascinated with “out-of-the-mouth-of-babes” stories.  We hang on every word little ones say, then go on with our lives thrilled at what we heard.  Who among us goes back ten, twenty, maybe thirty years later to those same children now grown to see how they’re doing?  What has their life been like?  A frequent complaint:  No one bothers to interview those in poverty.  I did.  One woman saved her pennies until she had enough to mail me her essay.  It was so tear-stained I could hardly read it.  Many were like that – people thrilled that their story could finally be part of such a study.  

The main challenges these experiencers faced:  (1) most began abstracting before the first grade and were smarter than their peers, teachers, parents—displayed signs of synesthesia (multiple or varied senses); (2) what happened to them within the family unit was unexpected, and at school age, having sex, dating, employed, married, with kids of their own, dealing with alcohol and drugs; (3) no matter their age they forever missed HOME, that greater collective they know is real – many feel lonely or are suicide prone, not in the sense of grief, but rather HOMESICKNESS. 

Penny (case 33)“The most profound memory was my mother smoking.  I remember getting excited in utero when she would feel anxious – because I knew that the bad taste was coming and soon I would get high.”

Alma (case 55)“It was during this time that I experienced my first visit to a place not of Earth, when my abuser would mount me, covering my nose with his stomach area.  I would suffocate and pass out.”  Alma was two years old when the rapes began.  She clearly remembers watching what was happening to her from a place on the ceiling looking downNote:  Out-of-body experiences like this are defense mechanisms children automatically use as a way to save the “real self” they are.  Psychic ability is not involved – survival is.

Children, and many adults as well, describe three kinds of light during their near-death experience.  There’s a raw/powerful/piercing brilliance, a dark or black light (often described with purple tinges to it), and a bright or white light.  Children are quite specific about these lights:  the white or bright light to them is Father Light; the dark or black light is Mother Light;  and that powerful/piercing brilliance is God’s Light.  They claim that both the Mother Light and the Father Light come from God’s Light.  An unexpected surprise emerged in this study:  a fourth light called “Clear Light.”  What happened to Uf in The Netherlands (case 109) is an example:  Uf was a ‘blue baby’ (one with a heart malformation that prevents a baby’s blood from being fully oxygenated), and not expected to live.  She entered Clear Light when born, surprised everyone by surviving; then, at various times since, has re-entered that special light.  Her frustration in describing any of this has revolved around the shame she felt as a child for “not fitting in” (whether with other kids or family), and when older for not being like other near-death experiencers.  A study of Buddhism as an adult helped her to realize that Clear Light is the one said to unify all the energy centers of one’s body – the glow of Joy/Vitality/Trust can result – the highest of healings through the greatest of lights.  By focusing on the Clear Light of her death, she discovered how to help herself and others, how to heal.”

Young experiencers think differently than anyone else in the family.  Nine chances out of ten, that child will see right through parents, siblings, teachers, school kids.  

Typical characteristics afterward:  heightened senses, vivid imagination, intellectual curiosity and drive, psychic/intuitive, loneliness, higher I.Q., deep capacity to care, great potential for an ethical path, aware of future moments, strongly independent even if shy, non-linear development.

Consider these surprises:  93% were drawn to and highly proficient in math/science/history; 48% once old enough to take the standard IQ test scored between 150 to 160 (that’s above genius level); those between birth and 15 months, especially if they had dark light NDEs, scored 180 and above (some over 200).  The younger the child the greater the jump in IQ.  Only four kids had genetic markers which could explain this.

Learning reversals are almost standard, so many reported them.  By a learning reversal what I refer to are children who start out immersed in broad conceptual learning styles, who are forced by the school system where they live to participate in “concrete” learning, which is material learned step by step, detail by detail, year after year.  An example of this is a young boy in the State of Georgia, barely six and in the first grade.  He drowned half- way through school, had a near-death experience, then recovered.  When he was well enough to return to school, all the kids were still reading books like “See Spot Run” and “Dick and Jane.”  He, on the other hand, was now reading Greek mythology and understood what he read.  He asked his teacher, “Why was the book Robinson Crusoe ever written”?  The teacher was so shocked she pulled him out of first grade and put him in with a group of special learners.  Ask yourself, what first grade class anywhere in the world is prepared for youngsters who can abstract?

Add to this conundrum the presence of synesthesia.  Synesthesia – blended or multiple senses – is fairly common as an aftereffect of near-death states, child or adult.  It is a neurological condition associated with the Limbic System in the brain.  With little ones you can almost count on them developing some form of it.  With Penelope (case 87), she danced with numbers in her mind, and in ways that enabled her to be ahead of her class in mathematics.  When asked by her teacher and a special education expert to show them how she was able to do what she did, quickly and without error, she was so embarrassed and frightened she was unable to answer.  From then on, she faked stupidity so she wouldn’t have to face them again. 

Percentages are stunning.  Take are look at these:  90% do not bond with parents, 84% are emphathic, 75% highly intelligent, 76% have strong spiritual guidance and knowing, 61% are aware of future, 62% consider out-to-body experiences a common event, 67% have problems sleeping, 70% have vivid dreams.

But here’s the most stunning percentage spread of all:                           74%. . . had a very successful life (several became millionaires, one was a Catholic Sister, another became a County Commissioner, one man was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, several excelled with the buying and selling of property).                                                                             74%. . . were suicide prone or troubled with suicide ideation (aftereffects of near-death states for the very young can seem similiar to a form of PTSD – post traumatic stress disorder).

How can anyone explain this?  

Standard research findings claim there is very little if any problem with a desire to end one’s life after having had a near-death experience.  Even my own previous research established this as fact (I’ve spent over forty years  interviewing and studying adults, older children, teens).  Today, though, with two studies focusing entirely on little ones – 397 people to be exact – we must all reconsider what we once thought was true.                

Pink clouds lovely
Photo by Eberhard Grossgasteiger

This new study reveals that 34% were positive about having had a near-death experience, while 61% were negative.  Why this reversal of what we thought was true?  Consider this:  A child does not look at suicide like an adult does.  They have no concept of hurting their family or causing anyone grief.  Their logic is uniquely different.  When they were not breathing, they were in a beautiful place with loving people.  Now that they are breathing again, that beautiful place and loving people are gone.  Aha!  The way to get back there then, is to simply stop breathing, and that’s exactly what many try to do.  Tremendous problems with bullying in school, the same from siblings at home. . . can add up to a “lost” childhood:  46% turned to drugs for solace, 45% turned to alcohol.

Here’s the struggle:  It’s all about HOME. . . guilt for wanting to go back and a sense of betrayal for getting kicked out.  Many never knew or understood what a human being is – or – how to be one.  Most entered the earthworld still engulfed in the Life Continuum.  Some remember past lives, yet the majority are simply not interested.  Their curiosity is here and now, what they can do with who they are.  

Cara (case 14) explains this bestShe died between three and a half and four years of age during a tonsillectomy.  Emergency measures were taken to save her.  Living life from a child experiencer perspective has been quite challenging.  As a child, when you feel other people’s suffering and emotions, have little or no say in things, feel duty bound to help others and that you can handle the extra burdens. . .life doesn’t feel safe.  It’s hard to be here.  Contrary to the ecstasy most adult experiencers have from their NDE, a child has to try to manage being in this world – and manage their “gifts” and sensitivities.  I’ve spent almost my entire life not wanting to be here.  Knowing oneness (in some fashion), all sentient beings are treated with respect and their journey is sacred.  Often, I have been put in a position to say a harsh word or step up to negative behavior.  It gets very tiring.  Earth is very harsh and I often long for the refinement of the other side.  It’s easier to breathe there.  The only way I’ve learned and dared to investigate my own feelings has been through talking with child experiencers I trust.  Physical life is very small for me but my internal life is expansive.  It is fascinating and difficult.  Child experiencers have a great deal to share when viewed from another perspective.”

Children tell us there is an ongoing stream of consciousness, that past/present/future are but one continuous reality, that time does not exist, and that consciousness itself moves from one dimension to another, in a continuous and forever opportunity for all of us to be the forever angels we already are.

I believe it’s time for us, all of us, to listen to what they have to say.



An international authority on near-death states, Dr. PMH Atwater, L.H.D. uses the culmination of her research to establish that the near-death phenomenon is not some kind of anomaly, but is rather part of the larger genre of transformations of consciousness. She combines her 38 years of near-death research with what she was doing in the 60s and 70s, experiencing, experimenting with, and researching altered states of consciousness, mysticism, psychic phenomena, and the transformational process, to reveal what transformations of consciousness really are, why we have them, and where they lead us. This lifetime endeavor covers over 43 years of work, involving nearly 7,000 people. Her meticulous and unique protocol gives validity to what she has discovered, and verified, about the percentage worldwide of people who have undergone near-death experiences.

She is an author of numerous books, including The Big Book of Near Death ExperiencesHer Amazon page can be found HERE.

She had been previously featured on this blog HERE.

One comment

  1. Veronica Shelford

    Thank you – I’ve just bought the book! This is fascinating. Without making presumptions, I find many of the “markers” mentioned so similar to my own experience that it makes me wonder if I did have an NDE as a small child, and have forgotten or repressed it. I had a very sickly childhood, so it’s not entirely a foolish suggestion. Which adds this possibility to the ones you’ve looked at – that there may be “half-ers” out there – not the full experience, but enough of it to bring some understanding to the dual world.

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