10 Upsetting Children's TV Show Episodes That Gave You Nightmares

Because our parents were super unconcerned about the terrifying television content we consumed.

Red and Stimpy Space Madness

It would be perfectly understandable for viewers of children's television to labor under the delusion that because a show is meant for children, the material presented will be relatively tame. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Kids are tough little buggers, and they can handle much darker and more complex material than we often give them credit for. That said, there is a limit to what every small child can handle, and there are examples from so many different shows where the writers went a little too far and ended up creating some genuinely scary content.

What tends to be the most upsetting is when this kind of stuff ends up in a show that isn't exactly known for causing existential crises in children, and then all of a sudden it pops in with a truly horrifying visual (Rugrats has a bunch of examples of these) or a storyline that makes you uncomfortable in a way that you aren't quite emotionally capable of processing yet because you are after all still a tiny human. The scars that these seemingly benign shows created on our collective psyche are forever.

10. The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances - Doctor Who

Red and Stimpy Space Madness
BBC Studios

There is an argument to be made that Doctor who isn't, strictly speaking, a children's show. But tell that to the generations of children who have grown up watching Doctor Who and a society that has a collective childhood memory of hiding behind the sofa from the Daleks. For the all time scariest though, The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances has to rank pretty highly.

For one, it's one of the few episodes that does a really good job of incorporating children into the storyline, so it's easy for kids to get emotionally invested through the experiences of Nancy's gang. Secondly, there is nothing that will ever not be creepy about a small child wearing a gas mask mindlessly wandering around asking people if they're his mummy.

And finally, the sheer amount of body horror involved in this episode really pushes the envelope, as characters become exposed to the gas mask child and begin to transform, with gas masks sprouting out of their faces with terrifying sound effects to accompany it.


Audrey Fox is an ex-film student, which means that she prefers to spend her days in the dark, watching movies and pondering the director's use of diegetic sound. She currently works as an entertainment writer, joyfully rambling about all things film and television related. Add her on Twitter at @audonamission and check out her film blog at 1001moviesandbeyond.com.