How to help a child who’s been frightened by scary pictures

Georgie asks: My 10-year-old daughter recently was exposed to a truly horrific image on the ‘Quizazz’ website… she really had her wits scared out of her and, despite my reassurances of ‘it’s not real,’ I don’t think I’m getting thru; how can I help her deal with her fright which is now turning into nightmares and having to have a night light on, etc?

Hi Georgie –


I just looked at Quizazz, and I think I might have seen the pictures that scared her –  Yep, those are pretty darn creepy!   I will say, though, that if it was one of those, I’m happy that it wasn’t worse!  Children are going to see faces that scare them, whether it’s in a fairy tale book or a monster movie or…  Hey do you know what movie has scared more people more than any other over time?  If you’re thinking about “Psycho” or “The Exorcist” or some slasher flicks, forget it.  The most frightening movie ever (based on a survey of psychologists years ago) is “The Wizard of Oz!”  Hey that witch scares me, and I’m not even human!  (Of course, her most famous line is about “your little dog too,” so that probably helps!!!)


What would worry me more is if your daughter has seen pictures of strong violence or sexuality, where the actual subject is disturbing to her, something she’s not ready for yet.  If it’s just a scary face instead, that’s something very normal, and you can definitely help her work through it.


The important thing to realize here, no matter what, is that her fear is about something other than just a scary picture.  If she’s having nightmares about those pictures, that’s because she’s got something that’s bothering her and giving her nightmares… and then she’s “casting” her nightmares with those pictures.  So what you need to deal with is the anxiety she’s having that’s causing her the bad dreams in the first place.


If your daughter was younger, I’d be telling you that there’s no difference in her mind between what’s “real” and what isn’t (one reason I don’t recommend showing “The Wizard of Oz” to very young children!).  But by age 10, of course she knows the difference.  So I would look in two directions.  The first is if something has been going wrong in her life lately.  Has she lost someone important to her?  Have people been especially mean to her?  Has there been a divorce or lots of fighting in your house?  In any of those cases, it’s very normal for her to have bad dreams, where her brain tries to work out and understand things, which use those scary faces in them.  And if so, while there’s nothing wrong with giving her that nightlight, what you really need to do is to deal with the effects of these traumatic events on her.


But if none of that has been happening, I would guess that she’s experiencing these fears because she’s ten years old.  Her body is starting to change, her friends are changing, her feelings are changing – it’s a very scary time of life!  (It’s no accident that both “The Wizard of Oz” and “The Exorcist” involve the terror of being a girl around her age – and the parent of one!).  So if it’s that, what she could really use is for you to be a great parent to her.  Talk with her about what’s going on.  Tell her stories about you and your friends and what it was like for all of you to go through those times (and don’t make them scary!  Remember, you’re trying to calm her fears down!).


If this anxiety keeps up for a long time, or gets worse, you might want to look at getting a professional counselor or therapist to see her for a while.  But most likely, having your help and support will get her through this just fine.  And before too long, she’ll be dreaming about someone she’s really attracted to instead…  which is when YOU get to be the one living in terror!


Good Luck!






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