Why Scientists Measure Children’s Fear of Death

Psychologists have identified five major approaches to dealing with death. Here's how to figure out which one your kid is taking.

There’s nothing like bonding with your kids over a mutual, existential fear of death. No healthy person wants to die, and most experts agree it is abnormal to not be afraid of dying. When discussing death with your child, you’ll likely find a refreshing amount of common ground.

Where the philosophy of death gets more interesting is in the study of death attitudes. Psychologists have identified five major approaches to dealing with death. There’s fear of death (the active state of worrying about your own demise) and its opposite, death avoidance. Then there are the three intermediary stages of death acceptance: approach acceptance (I’m looking forward to the next life), escape acceptance (I’m looking forward to leaving this painful life behind), and neutral acceptance (I’m ambivalent, because death is simply a part of life).

With children, fear of death and death avoidance are both healthy emotions (in moderation), as are approach and neutral acceptance. With rare exceptions, however, escape acceptance is the sort of thing a parent might worry about. Fortunately, scientists have released a psychometric test that you can use to assess your child’s philosophy of death. Here’s how it works:

Meet The Death Attitude Profile

Ask your child to answer the following questions with Strongly Disagree (1), Disagree (2), Moderately Disagree (3), Undecided (4), Moderately Agree (5), Agree (6), Strongly Agree (7).

  1. Death is no doubt a grim experience.  
  2. The prospects of my own death arouses anxiety in me.  
  3. I avoid death thoughts at all costs.
  4. I believe that I will be in heaven after I die.  
  5. Death will bring an end to all my troubles.  
  6. Death should be viewed as a natural, undeniable, and unavoidable event.  
  7. I am disturbed by the finality of death.  
  8. Death is an entrance to a place of ultimate satisfaction.  
  9. Death provides an escape from this terrible world.  
  10. Whenever the thought of death enters my mind, I try to push it away.  
  11. Death is deliverance from pain and  suffering.
  12. I always try not to think about death.  
  13. I believe that heaven will be a much better place than this world.  
  14. Death is a natural aspect of life.  
  15. Death is a union with God and eternal bliss.  
  16. Death brings a promise of a new and glorious life.  
  17. I would neither fear death nor welcome it.  
  18. I have an intense fear of death.  
  19. I avoid thinking about death altogether.  
  20. The subject of life after death troubles me greatly.  
  21. The fact that death will mean the end of everything as I know it frightens me.  
  22. I look forward to a reunion with my loved ones after I die.  
  23. I view death as a relief from earthly suffering.  
  24. Death is simply a part of the process of life.  
  25. I see death as a passage to an eternal and blessed place.  
  26. I try to have nothing to do with the subject of death.  
  27. Death offers a wonderful release of the soul.  
  28. One thing that gives me comfort in facing death is my belief in the afterlife.  
  29. I see death as a relief from the burden of this life.  
  30. Death is neither good nor bad.  
  31. I look forward to life after death.  
  32. The uncertainty of not knowing what happens after death worries me.
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How To Score Your Child’s Death Attitude Profile

Fear of Death: Add the scores from questions 1, 2, 7, 18, 20, 21, 32 and divide by 7.

Death Avoidance: Add the scores from 3, 10, 12, 19, 26 and divide by 5.

Neutral Acceptance: 6, 14, 17, 24, 30 and divide by 5.

Approach Acceptance: 4, 8, 13, 15, 16, 22, 25, 27, 28, 31 and divide by 10.

Escape Acceptance: 5, 9, 11, 23, 29 and divide by 5.

When Should I Worry?    

There aren’t any studies on average scores for children. But researchers have found that men and women from every age group from 18 to 90 all have roughly the same average scores for each section, so children are unlikely to be an exception. The average fear of death scores and death avoidance scores are both about 3, the average escape acceptance score is about 4, and the average neutral and approach acceptance scores are both about 5. If your child deviates significantly from any of these averages, you may want to consult your pediatrician.

At the same time, psychometric tests are designed to be taken under controlled conditions and administered by experts—not by you, in your living room. If your kid seems to have a healthy approach to death but scored way outside normal ranges, there’s probably no cause for alarm.