Do you think kids can recall past lives? — Interested Mom, Oakdale, MN
When my 2-year-old son began screaming out each night, with mumbled words about war and planes and being shot, despite the fact he’d watched nothing more traumatic than the Tele-Tubbies and played with nothing edgier than a set of plastic bricks, it was only a little disconcerting. After all, I had my own pre-birth memory that I’d shaken out and studied over the years, scanning it for further meaning, treasuring it for the message it did impart.
So as I soothed my son’s brow, I listened carefully to what was said and noticed how, by the time he turned 4, the nightmares and the talk of war faded out of his psyche. Instead, the toddler who screamed for coffee would only admire the 1960’s American automobiles in his daddy’s international car book that he said he’d fixed when he was a big boy of 19, grew into a child who wouldn’t drink anything stronger than a glass a water, displayed no interest in cars and never owned a toy gun.
My son grew into a child who wouldn’t drink anything stronger than a glass a water, displayed no interest in cars and never owned a toy gun.
Whether my son’s nightmares and predilections were signs of a recent past life in the United States is up for debate; but whatever the truth, there are plenty of young children around the world who tell such convincing and detailed stories about a past life that it becomes difficult for the most hardened skeptic to discount.
Dr. Jim B. Tucker is a world renowned past-life researcher and Bonner-Lowry Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences at the University of Virginia who has studied more than 2,500 cases of children between the ages of 2 and 6 who’ve talked about past lives. Dr. Tucker took over the 50-year-old research study founded by Dr. Ian Stevenson, and some of the children’s stories (all spontaneously provided by children to their caregivers) are so detailed that the researchers were able to trace the original person the child claimed to be.
Dr. Tucker shares some of these stories in his book, Return to Life. As reviewer Donna Chavez writes, “(Dr. Tucker) opens with the story of William, born five years after his policeman grandfather, John, was killed, with birth defects similar to John’s fatal wounds. William was able, at three, to report John’s last moments, of which he couldn’t possibly have had any knowledge. Then there is the Turkish child who insisted on being called by the name of a man who had lived 50 miles away. Taken to the man’s town, the child proceeded to the man’s home and identified the man’s parents in a roomful of people. All the stories were checked by scientist-interviewers, and all potential deception was eliminated; hence, Tucker introduces powerful grounds for credulous speculation.”
Perhaps one of the most interesting past life cases that Dr. Tucker researched and shared in an interview with Skeptico.com, is that of James Leininger, a son of a Christian couple from Louisiana. According to Dr. Tucker, from the age of 2, James began experiencing frequent nightmares screaming, “Airplane crash on fire, little man can’t get out.” He’d also slam his toy planes onto the family’s coffee table saying, “Airplane crash. On fire!” He spoke of having been a pilot of a Corsair and flying a plane from a boat called the Natoma. James reported that he’d been shot down at lwo Jima by the Japanese and named a friend called Jack Larson.
Dr. Tucker notes that for James’ father, a disbeliever in past lives, this seemed incredulous until his own research led him to discover that there had been an American aircraft carrier in World War II called the USS Natoma Bay and it was involved in the Iwo Jima operation. It had lost one pilot — a young man from Pennsylvania named James Huston. Moreover, Huston’s plane (a Corsair) went down exactly as James Leininger described. It was hit in the engine, burst into flames, crashed in the water, and quickly sank. Interestingly, on the day James Huston died, the pilot flying the plane next to his was a Jack Larson!
Over the course of his research, Dr. Tucker has identified key characteristics in kids who recall past lives. Specifically, 60 percent of the children who had past-life recall were male, 70 percent claimed they died a violent or unnatural death, 90 percent of the children claimed they were the same gender in the previous lifetime, with the median age of the prior death at 28 and the median time between past life death and rebirth being 16 months. Moreover, the children displayed above-average intelligence and showed no more sign of mental or emotional disorders than a typical group of kids.
With so much detailed evidence, it would be safe to assume that Dr. Tucker believes in reincarnation, yet he remains circumspect. As Dr. Tucker notes in an interview by Rachel Martin, “I think these cases contribute to the body of evidence that consciousness — at least, in certain circumstances — can survive the death of the body; that life after death isn’t necessarily just a fantasy or something to be considered on faith, but it can also be approached in an analytic way, and the idea can be judged on its merits.”
Of course, there are many people across the world, including certain Jews, some Christians, half a billion Buddhists and nearly a billion Hindus who enthusiastically embrace the concept of reincarnation and for whom children’s past life stories are a natural part of their theological perspective; that we are born, we live, we die and we are reborn again on Earth, as we seek to free the heart from issues like fear, anger, greed and envy until we perfect our soul and return to God. Naturally, there are more reported cases of past life recall by children from Eastern cultures than in Western cultures, and that may simply be due to the openness and understanding with which Buddhist and Hindu family members receive their children’s accounts.
So, what should you do if your toddler starts spontaneously talking about a prior lifetime? Don’t be fearful, shut her up, or worry that your child has a mental health issue. Instead, take the advice listed by the University of Virginia on its website: “When children talk about a past life, parents are sometimes unsure how to respond. We recommend that parents be open to what their children are reporting. Some of the children show a lot of emotional intensity regarding these issues, and parents should be respectful in listening just as they are with other subjects that their children bring up.”
Offering comfort and understanding to your child, while reminding your child that she’s safe and well, can go a long way to alleviating some of the trauma that seems to be typically displayed during a past life recall, as can praying for your child or even setting up a long-distance Reiki healing session for them. And, if the memories seem especially painful to your child or don’t fade with time, it may be worth calling up the University of Virginia for its advice.
As for me, I believe that the true gift of a child’s past life recall (whether you understand it or not) is in the reminder that it provides us: that our children have chosen to spend this lifetime with us. We’ve been blessed with the opportunity to nurture our children’s bodies, to expand their minds, to develop their spirit and to heal any pain or suffering they experience (wherever it originates) so that this truly becomes the best (life)time of their lives!