There’s a lot of scary going around this time of year. From horror movies to haunted houses to ghost-like trick-or-treaters. Of course, as adults, we take it all in fun, but what about your kids? How scary is too scary for them?
The answer to that question varies from family to family and from child to child. But here are some guidelines to consider as you encounter scary stuff with your kids.
- Save anything that could potentially be scary for kids over 7. Blood, gore, ghosts, zombies and haunted houses are too much for little ones to process and handle. Little ones are confused by what is real and what is not. They may have a hard time knowing what is reality and what is fantasy. Scary stuff may seem very real to them.
- By age 8 and older, kids could possibly handle some light-hearted scary stuff. But no horror films until kids are at least in their mid-teens. Your child may think they can handle it, but the real test comes after the event. I remember that my younger brother-in-law used to watch scary movies in middle school and then have trouble sleeping at night.
- If your child watches a program that is even lightly scary, watch it with them or at least check in with them every now and then. Ask them if they like it, or if it’s too scary. Let them know that it’s okay to turn it off or watch something else if they’d feel more comfortable.
- Watch for signs that the “scary” show is causing your child stress or fear. If they are afraid of the dark, being alone, loud noises, or going to bed, it may be that something they watched or saw is at the root of their fear.
- Be aware of what your kids are exposed to–from siblings, babysitters, and friends, and at their friends’ houses. Sometimes kids are forced to see something they really aren’t mature enough to handle. Kids who end up watching a show that’s too scary are often just going along with the crowd because they don’t want others to make fun of them. Teach your kids that it’s okay to speak up and say that they’d rather watch something else or just leave the room.
- When trick-or-treating, you may need to avoid the neighbor who thinks it’s funny to jump out of the bushes and scare your child, or the neighbor who has a very gory, bloody Halloween display.
Every child conquers fears at a different time. If your child is in middle school and is hesitant to go to a haunted house, support them and offer them an alternative plan if they don’t want to go. Your child may be hesitant to not go along with the crowd, but let them know that it’s okay not to like the scary stuff and you can back them by helping them come up with a reason why they cannot go.
You may observe your child’s fears and say that they are irrational. You can tell them “not to be scared” all that you want, but it probably won’t matter.
When my daughter was younger, she was scared of fireworks. I can remember many July 4th holidays where she covered her ears and eventually even refused to go watch fireworks. She’s still not a fan at age 29. As her parents, we could have poo-pooed her fears, but we chose instead to support her by offering her a way out.
But Wait, Shouldn’t we Help Our Kids Conquer Their Fears?
The kinds of fears we should help kids conquer are the ones that are holding them back from reaching their potential, the ones that paralyze them and keep them from doing something good or challenging.
Conquering fears of blood, gore, ghosts, and zombies will not help them become stronger! Those fears can cause long-term anxiety. For example, if, after watching a scary movie or seeing something scary, your child cannot sleep, suddenly wets their bed, or acts fearful for no reason, then they could be having anxiety from the experience.
As a parent, it’s imperative that you pay attention to your child’s behavior to discern if they are stressed by something that they experienced. Don’t be in a hurry to introduce them to scary movies; they have plenty of time adults to choose that sort of entertainment.
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