Let’s be real: there is nothing creepier than children. Clowns? Nope. Ghosts? Not unless you’re talking about ghost kids. No, when you’re watching or reading something in the horror genre and a kid shows up, you know that shit is about to go down. They’re considered the pinnacle of innocence, and therefore are the best way to make people incredibly scared and uncomfortable. d
Why this can be bad: This is so common a trope that we always expect it when we’re watching anything even remotely scary. This means that your audience has time to brace itself before the real scare happens, ultimately undermining the horror of the piece. I can tell you from experience that every time I see a child appear during a horror film, I tense up a bit and prepare myself to not be scared. And this helps! Because I know those kids are going to be creepy, and when they finally begin speaking in tongues or vomiting pea soup, I’m not scared anymore because I already prepared for it.
How you can fix it: Think about using these kids as red herrings. If you’re working on a screenplay or a novel and you come to a scene that you want to use to really scare your readers, use the trope of creepy children to set your audience up. Make them tense in fear. Once nothing happens with these kids and the audience relaxes, that’s the perfect moment to scare them because they are at their most vulnerable.
Bottom Line: Children are creepy, and we expect it. Subvert the trope to heighten tension.