Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Desensitization Procedure, Part I

So we watched Captain America – The First Avenger with The Girls this weekend. I can’t say that it went over all that great.  Well, not with R at least.  Coco was pretty good with it except for the kissing, and when a bunch of soldiers were getting ZAPPED into oblivion by the Cosmic Cube-powered guns. It was more the kissing though (“tell me when it’s over). 

R, on the other hand was in serious distress. Serious. Distress. Head covered by blanket, hands over ears, trembling body. I am not exaggerating at all.  She was terrified.

GQ and I were kind of expecting this; although steps had been taken to head off this reaction. We had already seen the movie and agreed that it didn’t cross any lines we were concerned about with scary monsters, sex or violence.  Our plan was to use Captain America as a tool to start desensitizing her to some of the stuff she’s scared of.  The list of these things is really too numerous to mention here. GQ and I talk about this fairly often b/c R regularly freaks herself out.

GQ talked to her about the movie earlier in the day. She showed her pics of The Red Skull and talked about some of the things she’d see; hoping to prepare her a little before the actual viewing of the movie. Yeah, that didn’t work.

She got herself worked up about it before it even started. By the time Johann Schmidt pulls his face off to reveal the Red Skull beneath, she was well past the I’m-Freaking-Out-Here stage. This did not play out the way we hoped. 

See, the idea of talking to her before the movie was supposed to prevent us from having to talk to her about all the stuff after the movie.  We have experienced this countless times after countless movies. “I just can’t get (any character, scene, sound, thought from a movie) out of my head.”  I had already had my Parenting Fail of 2009 when R was in 2nd grade and I agreed, against my better judgment, to allow her to watch an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer at a sleepover. The sleepover didn’t happen; I was summoned to get her around 10:30. 4th grade should be better, right? We almost didn’t make it through Captain America at all.  She had worked herself up into such a state that we had to pause several times and talk her down off her ledge. She was so upset once it was over that she couldn’t even form the words to tell us what had upset her the most.

How did we get here? Have we sheltered her too much? Should we have been exposing her to more frightening things at an earlier age? I can’t say that we should have been exposing her to more, but maybe we, or really I, should have not encouraged her fantasy world as much as I typically do.  Then again, [full disclosure ahead – get your judging hat on] perhaps the episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BTVS Again!!!) or Angel she saw between the ages of 0 – 3 warped her a little…

It wasn’t until early in 3rd grade that R realized that cartoons weren’t reality-based. I admit I enjoyed her thinking these thoughts. Maybe it was delaying her growing up.  I really don’t, but now I’m second guessing my decisions.

See, working in a school I get to see some kids who are growing up really fast; kids who are jaded before they’re 10 years old.  That makes me sad. All kinds of sad because being a kid should be great. I know there are horrible things that a lot of kids have to deal with on a daily basis. I do know this. I’m not a Pollyanna that thinks everything is happy and carefree, but for the most part being a kid should be a time filled with joy and wonder, and from my vantage point when you take that away from kids, or maybe when you don’t protect them from losing that at an early age you’re letting part of them go that won’t ever come back. That’s terribly sad to me.  All the junk that kids are going to have to face when they get out of elementary school is staggering as it is. So I guess I am sheltering my Girls. 

What’s the solution then? Do we keep exposing her to things, but in a controlled setting? Do we let her explore on her own under a watchful eye?  I guess it’s what we started the other night with Captain America. I know that we can’t let her go blindly into it all. It’s irresponsible and honestly, R would probably not explore too much on her own.  She’s quite happy to just watch Fat Albert and old Lassie episodes on the PBJ channel.  We will continue to gradually introduce her to more books and movies, talking to her about these, helping her understand that they’re not all real, and talking to her more when they are based on reality. And the reality of the situation is that there are so many real things that are equally, or even more terrifying.  These things we can’t just close the book, turn off, or wake her up from a nightmare.  If she can’t handle imaginary things I am worried about how she’ll respond to real travesties.

It turns out what freaked her out so badly was the actual war scenes.  She is terrified of war.  That’s better than it could be. That’s a rational fear.  She’s reacting to it irrationally, but again, she comes by that naturally. We’re already crafting the letter to excuse her from Social Studies for the rest of her academic career.  So, before sending her and Coco off to bed with visions of explosions and destruction, we watched the trailer for The Lorax and the soon to be released Ice Age sequel – “Holy CRAB!!”  Of course we did try to watch The Avengers trailer with them also. Luckily, it was just a little 10 second teaser.

Do you hear that sound?  You know what it is? It’s me blowing my Parent of the Year horn. You might want to cover your ears.

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