As we anticipate the next “haunting,” with Halloween just days away, we might be expecting our children to share the excitement. After all, Halloween is a favorite holiday for many, coming only once a year. As children prepare their costumes, each is transformed into a scary apparition, or a fantasy figure, or a superhero. Although I admit Halloween has never been my favorite holiday, I did enjoy the preparation, the decorating and limited trick-or-treating with my children when they were young. However, I recoil when I see a fake, decapitated corpse hanging from someone’s porch or a zombie child!

Many have expectations of an evening of fun and magic, although some young children struggle with the frightening images. Family members’ transformation into spooky monsters can horrify even a very spirited young child. A ghoulish mask and costume conceal the person underneath. This can be confusing, with fearful imagination taking hold of a young child. Temperament also plays an important role, with some children typically more cautious or fearful, even of common things and events. A child’s parents can also influence his reactions; if they are unusually anxious, he may filter those experiences the same way.

So how do we help young children enjoy this holiday without subjecting them to lingering fears and nightmares? First, preparation is key. Explain to your child that Halloween is coming with thoughtful explanation about real people wearing costumes and hiding behind masks. Help them understand that, to many, this is what makes Halloween fun. You can show them well ahead by having family and friends don, then take off, masks to help them understand they are still the same people. If your child is frightened by terrifying images or pranks, possibly being caught off-guard, this can impact her for a lifetime; so stay close to your child during the entire evening. Children should never be shamed or teased for their fears, and never coerced into a scary situation they’re resisting. Take your cues from your child. Children have different fears at various developmental stages. Be mindful that preschoolers have not yet differentiated between reality and fantasy, thus they’re fearful of ghosts, goblins, and monsters, all potential Halloween intruders. A parent’s help is needed when it’s difficult to distinguish between make-believe and reality. Halloween’s “magic” isn’t embraced by every child or by all ages, and it’s not for the squeamish!

S O M E   H E L P F U L   G U I D E L I N E S :

  • Children’s fears should always be respected. Coercing, belittling, humiliating, or punishing a child for his fears will only harm your relationship, without erasing the fears. Your child’s trust in you will be severely damaged if you do not protect him or if you compromise his safety. He will learn that it’s too risky to share his feelings, if his fears are punished or ignored. Share other situations in which he was anxious yet mastered his fears.
  • Prepare your children by discussing what to expect, listening to any concerns they have. Brainstorm together different approaches to ease how things work.
  • Be playful with your children, collaborating on dressing up and putting on makeup or masks to reinforce the idea that people are pretending and having fun.
  • Don’t allow any scary Halloween movies. The images can terrorize young children for a long time, causing nightmares.
  • Keep costumes comfortable. Children who have a low sensory threshold can be miserable in clothing that doesn’t feel right.
  • If masks are distressful and uncomfortable, try face paint as an alternative.
  • Avoid your young child opening the door to potential trick-or-treaters in terrifying masks. This also holds true for approaching houses in which adults may greet you dressed in scary costumes.
The best rule is to always listen to your child’s needs. Halloween night is transformed into ghosts and goblins, with the magic of a holiday of make-believe. If your child is distressed or scared, remove the focus from Halloween to fun harvest celebrations. It’s easy enough to discover something more friendly than goblins and ghosts. Take your cue from your child, letting him know you fully support whatever is most comfortable for him. Finding ways to move through this holiday as seamlessly as possible will save both you and your child a lot of anxiety. So how do we ease our children, and even ourselves, into this season, supporting the enjoyment of spookiness without becoming too spooked? Engaging our children in the fun, by decorating in ways they feel most comfortable, is a tremendous help. We can celebrate the enjoyable rather than the frightening parts. Wishing you a fun and safe Halloween!

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