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Scary movies and Halloween go hand in hand, but sometimes it can be hard to know what level of spookiness your kids can handle. While they may claim to be ready, it's important to keep in mind that tots who watch scary material often have nightmares or anxiety, and little ones ages 2 to 7 often can't distinguish between fantasy and reality. In fact, the younger kids are when they see a scary movie or TV show, the longer-lasting the effects will be, according to Common Sense Media. Disturbing images and sounds can affect vulnerable kids for years. Before you turn on the newest thriller, check out these expert tips for kids under age seven.
Choose media with care. Kids under 7 will believe what they see. When picking media, nothing should be more startling than “Boo!” Kids over 5 may like haunted houses, mysteries, and things popping out everywhere, but stick to animation, which helps them realize that it’s fantasy. Be careful with monsters, skeletons, aliens, and zombies. Avoid any dangerous material involving characters near their age.
Know what they're watching. Check out Common Sense Media reviews, which offer age recommendations and provide age-appropriate selections.
Pick age-appropriate thrills. Scariness can come from fear of the unknown, from surprise, or from fears about the loss of a loved one. Young kids are frightened more by creatures that older children know don’t exist. Abrupt noises, eerie sounds, and music create tension in both younger and older children. Of course, keep in mind that what's right for one five-year-old might terrify another seven-year-old.
Practice your poker face. Some research suggests that kids will become more scared if they see that you are scared by something in a movie or on TV.
Be prepared for when things do go bump in the night. If your child is frightened, 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.
Don’t be surprised if your kids suddenly like a little scary stuff. Kids who are 8-to-10 years old can handle being scared for longer periods of time -- in fact, some love it. Bring on the phantoms and ghoulish faces, but continue to choose films without gore or physical harm. Some intense moments are fun as long as the resolution involves a happy ending.
Got older kids? Visit Common Sense Media for scary movie tips for middle and high school kids.