One morning in the year 2000, two-year-old James Leininger woke up from a vivid nightmare and started telling his parents about a man named LT.James McCready Huston.
It’s normal for kids to have nightmares, isn’t it? James’ mum and dad, Andrea and Bruce thought so. And one like their son’s wouldn’t have normally worried them.
Only, as far as they both knew, James had never met or heard of this man before. No one had – he was a WW2 fighter pilot who died on the 3rd of March, 1945.
“Just after his second birthday, [James] started having night terrors that he was in a plane that got shot down and crashed into the water, and that he couldn’t get out,” Andrea said on Fox morning television in 2013.
“And his actions would mimic those of somebody who was trying to get out of something, as if he was trapped in the box and trying to kick his way out.”
Then came the drawings. At three, James began drawing pictures of fighter jets and battles, signing them off as ‘James 3’, even though he hadn’t yet learnt to write his name. He could also list off the names of his ‘fellow pilots’ and the name of the ship his jet took off from.
It was only after some research that James’ parents realised their toddler was recalling details of WW2 battles as if they were his own memories. As if he… was there.
Reincarnation, or having a past life, is for many just a myth. For some, it's part of their religion and for others, like James and his family, it's a reality.
Researchers have studied young children’s reports of past-life memories for the last 45 years, with over 2,500 cases having been investigated worldwide, the Children's Report of Past-Life Memories: A Review reports.
More common in countries with cultural beliefs around reincarnation, like India, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Lebanon, Thailand and Myanmar, reports of reincarnation have also surfaced in Europe and America.
While it's not uncommon for children to share stories that don't add up or have been concocted in their overactive imaginations, there are cases for which reincarnation is the only explanation that makes any sort of sense.
Stories like these:
"When he was one and a half, [Sam taylor] looked up as his father was changing his diaper and said, 'When I was your age, I used to change your diapers'. He began talking more about having been his grandfather. He eventually told details of his grandfather’s life that his parents felt certain he could not have learned through normal means, such as the fact that his grandfather’s sister had been murdered and that his grandmother had used a food processor to make milkshakes for his grandfather every day at the end of his life." - The University of Virginia.
“When [Cameron Macaulay] was six, he drew pictures of a single story house next to the beach on the [Scottish] island of Barra. But we're from Glasgow. Virtually the third word that came out of [my son's] mouth was Barra. He would tell everyone- I’m a Barra boy, I’m a Barra boy. He kept telling me over and over that he was worried that his Barra parents would be missing him and he really wanted to go back there. At first we just put his stories down to a vivid imagination. It was awful and went on for years. He used to cry for his Barra mum. He said she’d be missing him and he wanted to let his family in Barra know he was all right. He was desperate to return there. It was very distressing. He was inconsolable.” - Tim Coleman Media.
"When my daughter was about three or four, she approached me while I was reading a card sent by a family member. The picture on the front was of a little boat on a lake. She pointed to it and said, 'I've been on a boat like that'. 'Really?' I asked, knowing she had never been out on any boat. She said, in a somber tone, 'Yeah. I died there'." - Buzzfeed.
“My 4-year-old nephew talks about being on the Titanic all the time. He said he was with his wife and that it was really cold.” - Buzzfeed.
These stories, whether you believe them or not, beg the question: how can you tell if your child is imaginative, or has come back from a previous life?
Child psychiatrist and Professor of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, Dr Jim Tucker specialises in children who recall past-life memories. He advises parents not to draw any rash conclusions too soon.
"First, it is important to know that these statements do not, by themselves, indicate mental illness. We have talked with many families in which a child claimed to remember another set of parents, another home, or a previous death, and the children rarely show mental health problems," he says.
"These statements are generally made by children whose development appears to otherwise be just like that of their peers. They can occur in families with a belief in reincarnation or in families where the idea of reincarnation had never been considered before the child began making the statements.
"Parents are sometimes more upset by the statements than their child is. Hearing a child describe the experience of dying in a painful or difficult way can be hard, but both parent and child can know that the child is safe now in this life."
LISTEN: Mia Freedman interviewed psychic detective, Debbie Malone and found out how to spot a spirit (post continues after audio...)
For parents unsure of how to respond to their child's recollection of past-life, Dr Tucker suggests writing down any statements about a past life their child makes, and keeping an open mind.
"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. We also suggest that parents avoid asking a lot of pointed questions. This could be upsetting to the child and, more importantly from our standpoint, could lead the child to make up answers to the questions. It is fine to ask general, open-ended questions such as, 'Do you remember anything else?' and it is certainly fine to empathise with a child’s statements [i.e. 'That must have been scary']."
Jennifer Seitanidis, an Australian clinical hypnotherapist agrees, advising parents not to take action unless they fear their child is in danger.
"It's not something that you really need to seek help for, unless it is something that is causing distress and unless the child is fixated on it," she tells Kidspot.
"If it is something that remains disturbing for them even after you've allowed them to talk about it and express their feelings about it and it continues to come up a lot for them, that it when you can look at seeking help."
See! All those stories your kid keeps telling you about how they murdered someone 30 years ago are completely normal.
Oh... actually, maybe keep those ones to yourself.
Have your children ever told you stories about past-life memories? Were you concerned?
Too much noise and not enough time?