While watching the Lion King with my older toddler (almost 3), he asked me an interesting question I couldn't answer. During the scene with Scar and the hyenas, I asked him if it was scary (as I was concerned it might be). He said yes, and asked me "Why is it scary?". Further questioning made it clear that he did think it was scary, but he didn't understand why, and I didn't come up with a good way to explain why something would be scary.

How do you explain what "scary" is to a toddler or preschooler? Not so much concerned with how to deal with being scared, that I seem to understand - but I feel like he needs to know what "scary" really means.

  • The scene is scary because the colour palette changes and the music changes. There's some stuff about the characters and jeopardy and so on, but a 3 year old has no idea what "dead" or "killed" mean.
    – DanBeale
    Jun 12, 2014 at 7:02

1 Answer 1


What about : something scary is something that makes you feel unconfortable and not safe (?). There must be some kind of empathy, you should be able to relate with the character who are in that scary situation. So it would be scary if you feel like it could actually be you who are threatened, or the story is so captivating that you actually thought you were really in the story.

[It is very hard for a toddler in front of a movie, to differentiate what's in the movie and what's in the real life. It's actually very hard for an adult (I am into zombie movies and I am scared all the time :p), so imagine for a child!]

  • I like "not safe." My 6-yr-old often calls a movie or show "scary" when she's feeling anything uncomfortable, and it almost always comes down to "not safe."
    – Valkyrie
    Jun 13, 2014 at 10:42

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