How to (accidentally) traumatize your small children

In hindsight, perhaps it wasn’t a terrific idea to let my 3-year-old son watch a Doctor Who episode called “Asylum of the Daleks.”

GUARANTEED TO SCARE YOUR KIDS: Daleks. Photo by puuikibeach via Flickr

In hindsight, perhaps it wasn’t a terrific idea to let my three-year-old son watch a Doctor Who episode called “Asylum of the Daleks.”

We had enjoyed the series together before, and whenever things looked precarious and my son started to look worried, I would just say, “It’s okay, honey — the Doctor always saves the day,” and he would accept this statement and be fine. I should have known better with an episode that obviously featured Daleks, the scariest beings in the entire universe.

My son was fine at first. But then dormant Daleks in the Dalek asylum began to wake up. Then he buried his head in the couch under my butt. He came out of his hiding place when I reassured him of the Doctor’s capabilities, like I usually do, but he appeared to be paralyzed with fear and was staring at the screen with wide and terrified eyes. At that point, I just turned it off and watched the rest once he was safely in bed.

He has been talking about the Daleks every day since. I even considered that maybe he kept talking about them so much because he liked them, so I asked him if he wanted to watch the Daleks again. He said, “Nooooo, I don’t want to watch the Daleks! They’re scary!” and started crying. He calmed down once I had assured him that he did not have to watch the Daleks if he didn’t want to.

I’m not the first one in my family to watch a scary show or movie with a small child in the room. When I was four, my mom watched Jaws with me, and I laughed hysterically at all of the shark scenes. Since I obviously didn’t scare easily, she thought that Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds would also be okay. She was wrong. The Birds scared the shit out of me, and I did not get over my fear of birds until adulthood. I’ve thought about watching it again to see if it’s as scary as I remember, but I can’t bring myself to do it.

Sci-fi, horror movies and psychological thrillers aren’t the only forms of entertainment that can frighten small children. My son has a toy dog that rolls on the ground and laughs, and he’s rather afraid of it. One year, I was a volunteer at a haunted house that was supposed to be for children, and I distinctly remember many kids under the age of five crying because they were scared.

Disney movies can also be pretty frightening. Were you scared of Cruella de Vil? What about the cats in Lady and the Tramp? When I was six, a friend of my dad’s gave him some deer meat the day after I had watched Bambi with my Aunt Shirley. My parents didn’t push the issue when I told them through tears that I didn’t want to eat Bambi’s mom. I was also terrified that one day my dog would get rabies and I would have to shoot her like the kid in Old Yeller had to. It didn’t occur to me that my parents probably wouldn’t burden me with that responsibility if this situation ever arose.

Well, I’ve learned my lesson: no more Daleks. From what I understand, the episode that followed had dinosaurs on a spaceship — fine viewing for my son, I’m sure. I mean, what kid doesn’t love prehistoric creatures and space travel? ■

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