Nightmares and Scary TV Programs
Our 6.5 year old son just started having significant anxiety at bedtime, requiring me or my husband to stay with him until he falls asleep (not easy since we also have to put our 3 years to bed at the same time….). It used to be that when he was anxious about the dark at bedtime, our cat would sleep in his room and that would soothe him. But he says the cat no longer works. When we sit with him he falls asleep very, very quickly, so it hasn't been an impossible ordeal. But for 2 nights in a row now, he’s been waking up in the middle of the night and DEMANDING, almost hysterically, that we sleep in his room all night. He says he's afraid that worms will come out of his nose, something he saw on “Clone Wars,” his favorite TV show.
1) For now, how do we deal with this bedtime and middle-of-the-night?
2) For longer-term, what should be our TV policy? “Clone Wars” is his favorite show, and there might be WW3 if we take it away. Maybe we should anyway. But more importantly, should we be dramatically changing our threshold for what constitutes suitable screen time?
L.P. in the East Bay
Scary TV programs… boys (and some girls) love them and get freaked out by them. What are parent to do?
Your son needs you when he is this frightened. I recommend that you sleep in his room for a few nights to relieve his fear. It should take 4-5 nights to get him back to sleeping through. Knowing that you’ll be in his room all night will also help him fall sleep more easily at bedtime. Right now he is afraid to let himself fall asleep, worrying he’ll have nightmares about the worms and other scary things that tag along with them. After the night waking stops, praise him for his victory. Make a “Certificate of Accomplishment for Winning the War Against the Scary Worms from TV” (buy a gold lettered one in a stationary store, or download from the internet). Assure him that you’ll come to him if he needs you in the middle of the night. Leave your camping mattress in his room for a while –a visual reminder that you’ll be there when he’s scared.
It’s important to help your son get the frightening images “out of his system” first. Even though he may be reluctant because “it's too scary,” get him to draw the worms. Then suggest he cross them out with a thick black marker or tear up the picture. Let him make play dough worms, then bash them with his fist or stomp on them.
Also, ask your pediatrician to call him or send him a letter on office stationary saying there is no such thing as worms coming out of kids’ noses.
Back to the Source: Scary TV shows aimed at young boys.
Oy! There are so many programs for young kids that are way too scary! It’s also common that a child happily watches a program for months and, suddenly, a scene terrifies him. As he matures, he becomes more aware of things that are truly frightening in the real world. Thus, scary TV scenes trigger fears, as if out of the blue. Remember that the things he is afraid of (worms in his nose, ghosts, etc.) are not real, but the fear itself certainly is!
I am not well versed in the Clones and their wars, but clearly, your son is showing you how much they scare him. Is he going to renounce watching the program? Probably not. Should you banish it from the house? Probably… at least for a while. However, given the “threat of WW3,” I understand your reluctance. If you are not going to ban the show, you should watch it with him. Better yet, record and preview it. Let him know in advance if there will be a scary scene and be ready with the remote. So you can fast forward past it. However, playing out scenes and characters from the program with toy figures and dress-up is very valuable. It’ll help your son conquer the scary images, develop his imagination and his ability to channel his own aggression into pretend play, and builds his emotional vocabulary.
Now get some sleep!
Rachel Biale - Parenting Counseling