I’m in an Ozzy mood today, and I don’t mean the rocker. To mark the 70th anniversary of the classic movie The Wizard of Oz, theaters across the country are doing a special screening of the retouched version. We’re excited not only for the rare opportunity to see the film as it was meant to be seen– on the big screen– but also to introduce the Maiden to a childhood classic.
It will be a big deal. First, Oz will be one of the first full-length non-cartoon films she’s seen. (She saw most of Enchanted, but was really only interested in the cartoon parts– and the dragon–and the poisoned apple–and after a long discussion as to why she was upset because Giselle married the wrong prince, she needed to marry the red prince, the blue prince was wrong, the red prince was her true love, sob sob sob wrong prince sob sob, we decided our first foray into live-action films was a resounding failure).
Second, and even more importantly, Oz will be scary. Sure, the Maiden has seen scary before– after all, isn’t Maleficent the blueprint for half the Disney villains?– but since The Wizard of Oz is live-action, the frightening characters might seem much more real to her. We’re interested to see how she handles it.
I think she’ll do well. We’ve found that the best way to help her deal with frightening things is to encourage her to do what we do when confronted by scary scenes: take control.
Think about it. Television and movies can be frightening because, as we make connections between the pretend world onscreen and our lives, we suddenly feel our control on our world slipping. Will the shower curtain give way to Norman Bates? It did in the movie. Could those trees along the road be as sinister as the ones in Snow White’s woods? They look similar to me. To overcome fear, we retake control: we tell ourselves it’s not real, we laugh, we distract ourselves, we change the channel. Sometimes, we’re proactive with fear: a preview looks frightening, so we skip the film. Regardless of which method we choose, we’re exercising our dominance in order to show the fear– and ultimately, ourselves– that we’re stronger. We still may be nervous or even highly uneasy, but since we’re in charge, the fear is lessened.
What works for us as adults can also work, to a lesser extent, for kids. At least, that’s been the case with the Maiden. First, we prepare her. As adults, we rarely are caught unprepared by frightening scenes. We can pick up more subtle clues that we’re about to be spooked: a change in the music, a darkening of the scene, fear in the eyes of the characters. Although the Maiden is starting to recognize some of these cues, we help her out by warning her in advance that a scary part is ahead. It sets the stage: she’s already partly in control, since she won’t be caught off-guard when the scene happens.
The next step is to encourage her to choose a strategy to deal with the frightening things. Simply put: we ask her what she wants to do when the scary scene happens. We offer to fast-forward, or cover her eyes, if she wishes. Or, she can watch it and deal with it directly. Up until a few months ago, she usually asked us to cover her eyes. But lately, she’s tried meeting things head-on.
Now, her tactic seems to be to laugh and stick out her tongue at the menacing villains. She claims that it’s “what Princesses do”. (The Princesses have been responsible for much in our household, including convincing the Maiden that using the carpeted floor as a potty was an excellent idea. I’m glad that this time, they decided to exercise their influence for the good.)
The laugh’s nervous, even forced, but she’s in control: it’s her tactic to fall back on, to let her show the scary stuff who’s boss. The fact that she thought it up, rather than it being our suggestion, gives her an extra boost of confidence, I think. Plus, she knows there’s always a safety net to fall back on. If her tactics don’t work, we’re still willing– and we tell her so ahead of time– to fast forward, cover her eyes, or bring her out of the room.
We’ve helped her use these strategies for other scary experiences besides Disney movies: reading through scary sections of books, taking the Haunted Mansion ride at Disney World, passing the Hallowe’en decoration aisle at Target. It’s worked well there, too.
I’m hoping we’ll have similar success tonight. If she wants to leave early, that’s okay. That will be her way of dealing with the scary parts, and we’ll support her in that decision. But she probably won’t. We’ll discuss the menacing scenes ahead of time, she’ll get a strategy in place, and she will probably end up loving the film. In fact, she’ll probably play Dorothy for the next six weeks straight…and I’ll be pressed into service as the Wicked Witch of the West.
Now that‘s a scary thought! But that’s okay, too, because I’ve also come prepared. There’s a bag hidden away in the closet. Contents: one pair of red ruby slippers calculated to fit the feet of a pint-sized “girl from Kansas”.