Q: My 5-year-old daughter does not like TV that involves conflict. She has no desire to see a Disney movie and even gets anxious when a kid gets lost on Veggie Tales. She'll watch Blues Clues, Yo Gabba Gabba, and Barney but has no desire to watch the shows for her own age. When a movie is shown in CCD or Kindergarten, she gets anxious and sometimes starts crying. Will her inability to distinguish reality from fantasy resolve with age? Or is she an overly anxious, sensitive child?
–Facing Fear, in Chicago, IL
A: Dear Facing Fear,
It’s wonderful that you’re observing so closely how your child responds to the media she’s using. Every child is different. Knowing your daughter and watching her as closely as you do will help you make the best decisions for her.
Because children younger than 7 or 8 can’t reliably tell what’s real and what’s not, things that don’t seem scary to you or to older siblings may terrify them. Even though cartoons are marketed for young children, most aren’t really designed with their developmental stage in mind. Conflict and suspense sell tickets to adults, whose brains understand that it’s not real, but children experience these things in a much more direct and primal way.
Many kids are encouraged or learn to cover the anxiety that these images provoke. Your daughter may simply be more transparent in her responses than others her age, and even if she does seem more sensitive than other children, that can be positive, too.
In any case, it’s likely that her fear will resolve with time, but don’t push her to achieve this developmental milestone earlier than she’s ready. That would simply encourage her pretend she is not feeling what she is feeling, which will make her more anxious in the long run. In the meantime, ask teachers and other caregivers to find alternative activities for her rather than forcing her—and peers who may be better at hiding their anxiety—to view TV or videos that trigger her very normal stress response to anxiety-provoking images.
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,