Maybe you can tell my daughter why her 5 year old is afraid of everything and cries a lot. She was actually afraid of Toy Story 3 and cried every time they turned out the lights at a birthday party. She’s very bright (unbiased opinion) – just like you were when you were little.
(cousin) Steve, in Cincinatti, OH
A: Steve, I am going to go out on a limb and guess that your daughter knows why your granddaughter cries a lot. So, with love and affection, I am going to answer you, not her.
First off, let me say this. Toy Story 3? Pretty scary. Good movie, don’t get me wrong. But most 5 year olds (and some older kids) are going to have trouble with this movie. Without giving away too much of the story, the main good guys get close to death several times, and the movie starts with a pretty harrowing dream sequence.
Children who are scared at movies and books usually are the same kids that show a lot of empathy. This is a great character trait, but can interfere with media enjoyment. In the grand scheme of things, I pick the empathy (as if we get to pick!).
Many parents note that children who had no problem with scary scenes and lights out at age 3 start to have trouble a little later. Why? This is the age at which most children have learned that there are scary things in the world. Babies are almost never afraid of the dark. Most older children go through this at some point. Usually this fades but it can take anywhere from 6 months to 15 years.
Bright kids may show this awareness even earlier, as their slightly advanced understanding of the world develops. So consider this the flip side of the coin to just how brilliant she is.
Be sure to show her empathy. You don’t have to leave the bedroom light blazing when she sleeps over, but do get a night light, and please don’t tell her “There is nothing to be scared of, be a big girl.” Being a big girl is what got her to this developmental phase. She’ll grow out of it faster if you don’t ignore her concerns, just play them down a little bit. Be understanding but unconcerned.