How to Get Little Kids to Go to Sleep After a Scary Movie
Despite your best efforts to protect your little one from viewing a frightening movie, she might still get exposed to one she finds terrifying. This might happen if she has older siblings, when she goes to a friend's house or because she found something scary in the film that you didn't anticipate would frighten her. These fears often surface at bedtime, but there are things you can do to help reassure your child she is safe and help settle her down to sleep.
Acknowledge her fear. It's not helpful to simply tell her what she saw isn't real. Young children cannot distinguish between make-believe and reality.
Play along and poke a broom under the bed or make a loud noise to frighten the monsters away. Search under her bed for the monsters. Shine a flashlight around the room and in the closet so she sees there's nothing there. This is more effective than trying to convince her that monsters don't exist.
Encourage her to talk about the parts of the movie she found scary. Discuss the scenes with her. For example, is she's fearful about a scene with witches, ask her if she has ever seen a real witch. Explain about actors and costumes. Remind her about Halloween when her friends might have appeared dressed as witches but inside they were still themselves.
Use humor, but be careful -- you don't want her to think you are making fun of her fear. Try to get her to see the monster or witch in a silly or funny situation. Describe a new scene where the monster appears foolish and runs away in fear. If you can get your child to laugh, it can help dispel her fear.
Play a visualization game with your child. Tell her to picture the scary image in her mind and then imagine it exploding into a million pieces. Or have her picture a giant hammer that she uses to smash the image into fragments. Imagining she is flushing the monster down the toilet often works and introduces humor. If your child has difficulty visualizing, have her draw a picture for her of the scary scene and have her tear it into small pieces. These exercises help kids gain a sense of empowerment over the source of their fear.
Focus on happy memories. Describe a recent time when your child was particularly joyful. Get her to remember small details, such as what she was wearing at the time, to help distract her. Get her talking about upcoming pleasant events she's been looking forward to.
Be patient. Express understanding. Leave a light on in your child's room or in the hallway. Lie down next to her and give her cuddles. Reassure her that you will stay with her until she is feeling better.
Pre-screen all movies. Even though a film might receive a suitable rating, you might find it contains something that could scare your child.
If your child remains terrified despite your efforts or seems to fear many things that other children don't find scary, consider discussing the issue with your pediatrician. There may be other issues in her life that are contributing to the fear.
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