First, choose a movie that’s made for children. Even some cartoons can be scary, and if your child cannot yet follow a story line properly, a friendly alien can seem like a monster. Children have trouble distinguishing fantasy from reality, so it’s best to avoid films that may have scary elements in them. Remember – no matter how much you tell your child it’s not real, if they see it on screen, they’ll think it is!
Next, you’ll want to prepare your child. Tell him or her that the cinema will be dark, and that he or she will have to sit still and be quiet while you’re inside. However, make a point that you also mention that there is a bathroom outside, and a foyer that has the lights on. Also tell your child that they can leave at any time they want to – all he or she needs to do is tell you that they want to leave.
Give yourself lots of time to get popcorn and cold drinks, and be seated in the cinema before the lights go off. That way, your child won’t be herded into a darkened room, with the music already blaring out of the speakers. Choose seats quite far back, and close to the aisle, so that you can leave easily if you need to for any reason, whether it’s a bathroom break or to go home. Baby wipes for cleanups are a good idea, and if your child has a blanket or stuffed toy they want to take along, let them.
Understand that even if you choose a benign and fun movie, your child may still find something disturbing in it. No one knows exactly what’s going on in a young child’s fertile imagination, and if they get scared, even if it’s seemingly for no reason, you need to respect that. Don’t force your child to stay if they want to leave, and if you’re worried about your older children complaining, rather schedule separate movie dates with them.
If your child remains disturbed long after the movie, talk about it, and offer calm, reasonable and short explanations as to why things that frightened them in the movie wouldn’t happen to them – or you.