A Shark Attack on my Child’s Feelings

I took my boys, 6 and 7, to the Museum of Natural History to see a 3D movies about marine dinosaurs. The youngest is especially sensitive to traumatic events in movies and games, so I had checked that the movie’s rating was age-appropriate.

However, instead of having an impersonal nature movie, the plot was a mommy prehistoric dolphin who gave birth to two babies, and the story centered around their lives. Just at the description, I started feeling wary. I’ve been surprised so many times about what is considered appropriate children’s culture. Sure enough, halfway through the movie the mother got eaten by a huge shark. Our youngest turned to me wide-eyed and asked if the young siblings were okay.

I said yes, but a few minutes later the brother was also killed and the sister was injured by the large shark. By then I knew that I would have some emotional cleaning-up to do later that day.

I had promised them a look around the museum shop before leaving and my youngest came running to me with a (no surprise!) 30-dollar plush Great White shark which was way out of his budget. He was heartbroken when I said that we weren’t going to buy it. He balked, pouted and whined all the way home. At home he kicked and screamed and would not eat any snacks. I began making contact with him and he said that he really wanted to buy the shark so that he could play with it and (again, no surprise!) his own toy dolphin.

I said that his big brother had a blue soft shark that he could play with but no, he wanted a grey shark, THAT grey shark. My mind was racing, trying to figure out how to help my little guy unload his feelings. I was pretty upset, actually, so play was far from my mind. I found a grey long-sleeved t-shirt and wrapped the blue shark in it. Only the teeth were sticking out in the front. My son whined that the tail was sticking out and it was blue. I saw that he was wearing grey socks and playfully pulled one off to put on the blue shark tail. And then I approached him with the ill-disguised blue shark which looked so ridiculous that we both started laughing very, very hard.

Until then I wasn’t really focused on playing, more on “seriously” providing him with a good-enough grey shark. But that was just not going to happen, and instead we got something much better in return. From then on, it all unfolded beautifully. I could start being creative again having found an inroad to his feelings. I played stupid and kept telling everyone that he was an authentic, grey, terrifying, prehistoric shark, in spite of his terrible disguise. I also played the scared shark who swam away screaming with fear when the dolphin stuck out his head from hiding. The whole family was shrieking with laughter. Later we also re-enacted the killing scene but the dolphin killed the shark instead because the shark was too full and sleepy from eating and had a tummy ache, etc… After this the boys took over the game for a couple of minutes and played out other unrelated scenarios, and little brother was his happy self again, ready for a snack and more good times!

Are you ready to learn how to employ parenting techniques like this, and turn troubling moments into ones of connected play time? Sign up for one of our core classes, Building Emotional Understanding.

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