My 5year old son wants to know what ZOMBIES are. How do I explain what they are without scaring the living daylight's out of him. Even though I know they are not real, he doesn't.
T&J, Gilroy, CA
The full definition of a zombie (a human who has died and come back to life with magical physical powers and who basically wants to eat humans) is more than any 5-year-old needs to understand. But your son is giving you a great opportunity to talk about all things scary and to establish yourself as a person who he can turn to for information about anything.
Start by asking him a question, suggests early childhood educator Diane Levin, author of "Beyond Remote-Controlled Childhood:"
"Well, what do you know about them?" This is always a good starting point for any topic that is complicated, scary or simply beyond a child's developmental grasp. These days, given our culture, that can cover a lot of ground! I call this a Goldilocks question: the answer tells you where your child is coming from and therefore enables you not to give too little information or too much, but just the right amount.
So let's say he tells you, "On the playground, kids pretend to be zombies. They eat human flesh!"
Your answer: "Zombies are pretend. Somebody made them up, just like somebody made up [pop in the name of his favorite character]." Pause. "Sounds like this was scary!"
"They poke out people's eyes!"
. "Yes, zombies do weird things. Zombies are really for adults who like scary things. They aren't for kids. The important thing to remember is they aren't real. What else did you hear?"
Levin says the point of a conversation like this is two-fold: (1) to have a give-and-take so your child feels safe to bring up topics like this with you; and (2) to give age-appropriate truthful information that can rein in scariness.
If there's more to do what he knows than you know ("Joey says....."), it's ok to say, "Maybe there was an adult movie that Joey saw. I don't know all the things there are to know about zombies, just the basics. But I do know they are pretend and they're for adults who like to see scary movies. I'm glad you told me."