Teaching Kids to Cope-Avengers Endgame
There will be Avengers Endgame spoilers ahead, so proceed only if you’ve seen the movie. I don’t want to be the troll who ruined the experience, but if you have kids, bookmark this article and save it for later. You might just need it.
Being a parent in this age means being an expert on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Our kids play with the toys. They wear the costumes and re-enact every scene, sometimes to the point of nearly driving us insane.
Opening weekend, we know what we’re doing, that is if we can score tickets for opening weekend. If we can’t score the tickets, we are out of the running for parent of the year. Don’t bother trying to make it up to the little munchkins. It’s over.
Usually, being the parent of a superhero junkie is kind of fun. Kids have impressive imaginations, and watching those imaginations soar to new heights with their favorite characters is almost more delightful than watching the movie in the first place. They anticipate the next installment as much as we do, and when the last end credit scene plays, they are happy and excited to share their favorite moments on the ride home.
Well, that’s the way most Marvel movies go, but last year’s Infinity War changed the rules a bit. Even before the snap, I heard the audible gasp from my middle daughter as her precious Gamora fell to her death, so I knew I was in trouble. When half of their favorite characters were gone with the snap of Thanos’s fingers, my children (and their parents) were left shell-shocked. The head, Thor, the head!
We left the movies telling our little superfans it would all be fine when Endgame arrived. Personally, I pointed out the various sequels we knew were in development and reminded my children it would be difficult to make Spider-man: Far from Home without Spider-man.
My husband talked to the kids about the biggest blockbuster of our childhood, The Empire Strikes Back, and explained how hard it was to wait the whopping three years for the galaxy to be put to right in Return of the Jedi.
It worked. The tears subsided and anticipation for the fourth installment stayed on a steady climb for a full year then the unthinkable happened. The cast and crew started using words like cathartic and emotionally wrecked to describe Endgame. Wait, what?
I started to worry. I made some serious promises last April, and I was just beginning to realize I probably wasn’t going to be able to make good on them. Once again, parent of the year award was not looking very likely for me.
My kids were going to see this movie. Not taking them wasn’t an option. This was the climax to over a decade of storytelling. All their friends would see this movie, and I could not, in good conscience, skip out on them. Were they going to be able to emotionally handle it?
I started prepping my kids. I warned them about certain actors saying their contracts were up. I explained the need for Marvel to kill someone beloved in order to remind the audience the stakes were high.
Last warning, spoilers ahead. If you haven’t seen Endgame, click the back button now. I mean it. Do not keep reading. Someone spoiled one of the major moments for me, and I was not a happy camper. I felt quite a few strong emotions in that instant. How dare anyone spoil the Endgame before the official release date?
One mistaken click of the mouse and I learned the fate of the Black Widow. Yep, my favorite character’s shining moment was spoiled. I knew something I shouldn’t know, and I couldn’t even talk to my husband about it. After all, you aren’t supposed to spoil the Endgame, and he really didn’t want to know. Unfortunately, I knew, and I also knew it was not going to go over well with our kids.
Why Natasha Romanoff? I expected something to happen to Tony Stark or even my man, Steve Rogers. My kids were prepared to say goodbye. They weren’t happy, but they understood.
From here on out, I’m going to focus on the Black Widow. This was the crushing blow for my kids, but the lessons we taught our children could easily be applied to the other major losses in Endgame. Rest in peace, Iron Man. You will be missed, but your death didn’t cost my kids near as much sleep.
With the Black Widow movie on the horizon, Natasha’s death seemed ill-timed and pointless, except it also made total sense. This was the perfect ending to the character arc set forth all the way back in Avengers. Natasha’s goal was to wipe out some of the red in her ledger. Of course, she’d be willing to sacrifice herself to save half the universe and her best friend.
The tricky thing for me as a parent was going to be explaining the loss to my children. I have four daughters who’ve grown up watching the Black Widow keep up with (and sometimes surpass) the boys. She’s empowered them.
My youngest son’s first crush was the redhead who could take out the bad guys. He saw her as just as valuable an Avenger as any of her male counterparts, and it helped me teach him the important truth that, yes, men and women really are equal.
I had a conundrum of epic proportions. Two days before we would see the movie, and I knew something that would rock my children’s world in a way Spider-man turning to dust couldn’t compare. Should I spoil the Endgame? Should I gently prepare them? Could I truly let my children be blindsided?
My youngest daughter stood on the front porch one evening in March, refusing to get in the SUV to go see Captain Marvel because she wanted to protest that there hadn’t been a Black Widow movie yet. She claimed she’d been waiting for it her whole life (she was born the year Iron Man 2 came out so it’s kind of true). The Black Widow movie should have come first in her mind. She’d already been annoyed that D.C. beat Marvel to the punch with Wonder Woman, so this was an outrage to my girl. I’d already bought the tickets and had no time to get a sitter, so I had to do some fast talking to get my little girl into the car. I told her IMDB listed Scarlett Johansson in the cast, and she was ready to jump in the car. She didn’t get out of her seat until after the small end credits scene featuring the Black Widow played. How was she going to cope with Endgame?
In the end, I opted not to say a word. Bad things happen when we least expect them. Why not let it play out and use the movie experience to teach my kids some real coping skills? Suddenly, I didn’t hate the internet troll who’d ruined the movie for me (well, I didn’t hate her quite as much). I had 48 hours to prepare, and I was going to take advantage of every minute. Here’s what I came up with to help my kids.
Loss is a Part of Life
My kids have had a few limited experiences with death. In most cases, they lost people who were older, and it was sad but not shocking. There will be losses in the future that take them by surprise. Using the shocking loss of their favorite character to prepare them for a real-life loss later could help.
We talked about the stages of grief-denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. They went through those stages in fast forward as they dealt with the loss of a fictional character, and we explained the importance of each stage. Understanding this was only a movie made it much easier to process, but the lessons remained.
We went through the list. It is okay to go into denial briefly. Anger is a rational response to loss. Bargaining, while pointless, is acceptable. The sadness of depression is hard to handle, but it happens to everyone. Finally, acceptance is necessary to move on.
Will our kids remember the lessons about grief when the time comes to actually put them into practice? I hope so. I’m grateful for the teachable moment regardless because I know they were listening and understanding what I was trying to say.
Emotional Release is Helpful
Kids deal with everyday stress just like adults, and they tend to deal with those stresses like us. Once children are past the age of temper tantrums, they quickly learn to bottle their emotions and just keep going. It’s sad. It’s unhealthy. It’s inevitable.
I talked to my kids about the beauty of cathartic release, a concept they did not understand until the movie credits rolled. Endgame, while offering endings for favorite Avengers, provided the perfect opportunity for kids and adults to get a bit of emotional release.
My children hate watching some movies with me because I tend to tear up easily. Whether it’s happy tears or sad tears, I’m quick to give in and allow those teardrops to fall. A few of my children had never had that experience before Endgame. I was able to walk them through it and add the word cathartic to their vocabulary and coping arsenal. Maybe it’ll save me money on therapy during their teenage years.
Sacrifice is Honorable
The general consensus in our society is to look out for number one. It is ingrained in our kids from a young age they should have what they want when they want it. There is a prevailing selfishness that permeates every aspect of society, and our kids pick up on it early, no matter how much we protest.
I love teaching my kids about World War 2 because I firmly believe the generation who fought the Nazis were the greatest generation of modern times. Those brave soldiers were willing to sacrifice everything to rid the world of the evil that was destroying civilization. They understood sacrifice.
I never want my kids to experience the type of sacrifice equivalent to that of the soldiers of WW2, but I do want them to understand the concept. I want them to see the selflessness of sacrifice as an honorable thing. I want them to be the type of people who will do what they believe is right even if it costs them something-maybe, even if it costs them everything.
We talked about that devastating moment where the Black Widow chose to die so the snap could be undone. We talked about her sacrificial love for Hawkeye and her willingness to ensure he could be with his family. We talked about the unselfishness she showed. We pondered how hard it would be to give up what we wanted for someone else’s sake.
Men and Women are Equal
Teaching my kids to be the change I want to see in society is probably one of my primary jobs as a parent. I see things going in a great direction when it comes to equality in the sexes. It is about so much more than equal pay for equal work. It is about acceptance of each other and realizing that the differences between the sexes are there for a reason, but those differences don’t make one sex lesser than the other.
Marvel has done so well by the Black Widow, because they chose not to reduce her to merely the token female. She has always been a valuable member of the team. At times, she’s been the only one making the right strategic calls. Civil War comes to mind. She understood the importance of the team sticking together, and she was the voice of reason even when no one was listening. In Endgame, we see her clearly leading the Avengers in a time of complete uncertainty when the others couldn’t get past their emotions.
While it’s not unusual in 2019 to see women in leadership, fiction still tends to make women either strong and brave or feminine. The Black Widow has been portrayed as both. I want my girls to understand they don’t have to give up the traits they inherently possess as women to succeed or to be strong and brave.
Letting Natasha make the sacrifice instead of Clint was a refreshing (and soul-crushing) move on Marvel’s part. I loved the fight to the finish. I loved their willingness to sacrifice for the other’s sake. I loved the equality built into the moment.
A few years ago, in Hollywood, no one would have even entertained letting the woman have the moment of glory. It would have been a given that the man would have done what was necessary, while his female counterpart looked on sadly from the sidelines.
This was something I pointed out to my kids. Change is here. My girls can do whatever they want. My boys can do whatever they want. They are growing up in a society that will allow them to really be equal. This is a good thing.
Fiction Vs. Reality
This one should be a no-brainer, but my kids needed the reminder. The Marvel Universe is entertainment. The deaths they saw on screen were not real. I took some time to reassure my youngest children that they’d just watched a movie. No actors were harmed in the making of Endgame, except potentially Scarlett Johansson, who said the fear of giving something away on the press tour may have given her PTSD.
As I held my weeping Black Widow superfan in the back seat of our car for nearly 10 minutes before I could get in the driver’s seat and drive us home from the theater, I assured her Scarlett Johansson was most likely tucking her own daughter into her bed at that very minute. We listened to a few great Scarlett Johansson and Pete Yorn songs, and I promised to take her to see JoJo Rabbit in the fall and the Black Widow movie in the spring.
I reminded my daughter of a play she was in with her older brother where he built a time machine and traveled to various points throughout history. I assured her the actors who played the Avengers were just doing something similar with a much, much bigger budget. She was satisfied. She understood.
My Kids Before and After Reactions to Endgame
My youngest child may currently hate the movie, but she hated Infinity War immediately after they dusted Peter Parker. Now, she loves it. Someday, she’ll show Endgame to her own children and tell them it was the bravest cinematic motion picture of all time, and she’ll be right. Hopefully, she’ll use the movie to teach my grandchildren a little bit about loss before they experience it for themselves. If I’m really lucky, she’ll tell them her own parents were wise when they let her go in unprepared then used the experience to teach her how to cope.
© 2019 Michelle Clairday