How Much “Scary Stuff” Can My Young Kid Handle?


Some kids like scary stuff, and some kids hate it. Movies with fearsome images, intense danger, loud noises, and—above all—blood and gore can create all sorts of problems, so it’s wise to take it slowly. Children younger than 7 can’t easily distinguish between fantasy and reality, even if you tell them it’s not real. You will know if your kids have become too frightened when they start having sleep problems, irrational fears, and obsessions with, for example, zombies.

Disturbing images and sounds can affect vulnerable kids for years. When scary surprises, such as the one at the beginning of Finding Nemo, crop up suddenly in a movie, check in with your kids. Because they’re caught up in the emotion of fear, they may miss the fact that a scene has a safe resolution. Feel free to leave the movie theater, turn off a show, or otherwise shut down something you think is agitating. Talk about it, comfort your kid, and use it as a gauge for next time. These tips can help:

  • Choose with care. Kids over 5 may like haunted houses, mysteries, and things popping out everywhere, but stick to animation, which helps them realize it’s fantasy. Be careful with monsters, skeletons, aliens, and zombies. Avoid any dangerous material involving characters near their age.
  • Be prepared for when things go bump in the night. If your kid is frightened at bedtime, give him physical comfort, a glass of water, or a distraction. Kids 2 to 7 respond well to magical remedies and nightly rituals, such as cleaning the monsters out of the closet.
  • Avoid shows and movies in which characters use violence to resolve conflict. But if it comes up, talk about alternative ways that characters could have solved a problem.
  • Watch the clock. Avoid potentially frightening stuff (including serious loss, scary suspense, bullying, coercion, and portrayals of psychological dysfunction) right before bedtime.

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