How Rebekah McKendry, Horror Film Director, Calms Her Own Kids’ Nightmares

Parenting has changed over the years. As kids, many of us were told “Just go back to bed” when we woke up scared of our nightmares. Luckily, children of the 80’s are raising their own little ones differently. Even the parents who create scares for a living.

We caught up with Rebekah McKendry, an award-winning film and television director with a strong focus in the horror and science fiction genres, to ask her about how she handles her own kids’ nightmares. She and her husband Dave have a girl and a boy: Marnie, 5, and Strummer, 19 months old respectively.

Rebekah has a doctorate in Media Studies with emphasis on the horror genre, and she’s worked as the Editor-in-chief at Blumhouse Productions and as the Director of Marketing for Fangoria Entertainment (both companies are titans of the horror genre).

When did your kids start having nightmares?

Most kids start having them really young. We could tell [because] they would be completely asleep, then they would suddenly start screaming. We would go in and they would be inconsolable for a few seconds then they’d quickly realize that whatever they were experiencing wasn’t real.

Strummer is at a point now, where he can say specific words, which would be, like, car, dog, hungry or food, but he’s not at the point where he’s forming complete sentences and he doesn’t say the word ‘nightmare’.

So I would say we first started noticing both of the kids having it, probably shortly after they turned about a year. But I suspect they were having them earlier and we just didn’t know the signs. Still, kids develop emotional cues and learn how to convey information to you without using words.

We can tell from his crying whether he’s hungry, he needs a diaper change, his teeth are hurting him, or he’s having a nightmare. You learn how to pick up on the cues on what’s going on and why he might be upset in the middle of the night.

How do you calm them when they’re terrified?

You have to start by explaining that nightmares aren’t real. I remember Marnie’s first nightmares were about things that we really couldn’t understand. She would be like, "The house is falling,” and we’d ask, “What do you mean?” But she wouldn’t be able to explain it well. She just dreamed that the house was falling and things like that.

We would have to sit her down and calmly explain that these things aren’t real; that nightmares are something that you experience at night but a lot of times it is your brain trying to prepare you for things that you might encounter during the day; and that when you wake up you can take a deep breath and go, “Okay, that wasn’t real, I’m gonna go back to sleep now.”

You live and breathe horror movies for a living. Was it ever a concern watching them at home with your kids?

Totally! This was a concern when Dave and I first got pregnant with Marnie. And it wasn’t just them watching frightening things before going to bed, it was everything around our house. Our house is pretty much a giant scrapbook of everything that we’ve done in the horror industry.

When we got pregnant with Marnie we were immediately like, “Oh my god, we need to take down all the posters! Do we need to take down all the pictures? Do we need to take down all of our DVDs off the shelf?”

Because what if one day she pulls down Return of the Living Dead and is suddenly staring at this gruesome cover? Do we need to rid our house of anything that is even slightly horrific? And so we asked our pediatrician, right before we were about to give birth, “Do we need to go through and completely sanitize the house of anything even remotely creepy?” and she just looked at us and smirked a little and very frankly said, “No way!”

She explained to us that kids will tell you when they’re scared of something even before they can speak. Strummer does this now, if something’s bothering him, he will walk over to it and point and scream and let you know that it’s bothering him. But according to our doctor, if there’s a picture and it’s been in the house since they were born, it’s not likely to scare them since it’s always been there. She said the things they will find terrifying are things that you will never expect…things where you will just be like, “I don’t get it – it’s a bunny rabbit! Why is this scary?” And that’s what we’ve discovered to be true.

Does it matter if the kids watch a scary movie right before going to bed?

We let the kids watch scary content before bed – if they ask for it. Marnie is a huge Godzilla fan. With some of the Godzilla movies, I look back now and go, “God these are silly and there’s absolutely nothing terrifying in them whatsoever.” From a child’s perspective, I suppose there are some – we’ll call it “tense” moments. But Marnie loves them and asks for them so we let her watch those.

Sometimes we’ll be watching a Scooby-Doo episode and she’ll just say point blank, “I don’t like this episode. The big giant electric monster is scary!” So she’ll say, “Can I watch My Little Pony instead?” Or she’ll say, “Can I watch a different episode?” 

Pretty much our entire theory on parenting has just been, we let the kids dictate how we respond. If Marnie says “I don’t like this monster today,” then cool, we respond to that. We put it away and then if she asks for it a month later, it’s there to come back out.

Do you let your kids sleep in your bed after a nightmare, or do they always stay in their own?

Again, we let the kids dictate. We try to keep them in their own beds, because we believe it really helps them in the long run. But with Strummer being as young as he is, we don’t immediately rush him to bed with us. We’ll go in, we’ll comfort him, but then we ultimately let him get himself back to sleep – even if he’s still crying a little. We’ll let him soothe himself to get back to sleep.

If Marnie comes into our room in the middle of the night and says, “I really had a bad dream,” we’ll talk to her for a little bit and we’ll let her make the decision if she wants to go back to her own bed or if she wants to climb in bed with us. And the majority of the time, she wants to go back to her own bed. So we’ve discovered that letting her just talk through it and talk about the fact that dreams aren’t real, see how the dream might be silly, how it could never happen in real life – that has been the best way to help her get through it.

Does your child suffer from nightmares? How do you deal with it?

Tags : ask the expert   development   nightmares   

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