What to Do if Your Child is Afraid on Halloween
Growing up, Halloween was one of my favorite holidays. I loved dressing up, the cool decorations, and of course all the treats. So I was so excited when my own children were old enough to go trick or treating. Last year I was so excited to take my daughter around the neighborhood on Halloween night, only to find she was terrified of the creepy skeleton decorations and zombies walking the streets.
All of the fun decorations and costumes were frightening to her.
Children ages 3 to 4 still have a difficult time telling what is real and what is pretend. For a young child, especially one with an active imagination or an anxious personality, the creepy fun of Halloween can be very scary. Little ones often can’t tell that the scary mask is just a mask and not a real monster. Young preschoolers are often going through fear of the dark, monsters and other imaginary fears. Add all the scary decor and costumes of Halloween to a child already dealing with fears and you have a recipe for disaster.
So what is the best way to help a child who may be struggling with the scary aspects of the holiday? Here are some tips to help a young child who may not be excited for Halloween.
- Start preparing your child for Halloween early. Children do best with new or unusual situations if they have time to prepare and know more about what will happen. Check out books from the library about Halloween. Introduce the idea that Halloween can sometimes seem scary but it is all pretend. Share some positive stories of your own Halloween experiences growing up.
- Don’t minimize your child’s fears. Let them know that you understand what they are feeling. Help label the feelings they might not yet have the words for. “Are you nervous about seeing a scary skeleton?” “Do you feel frightened because of the scary music?”
- Show kids that masks are just pretend. Bring home masks and let your child play with them. This takes away the fear of the unknown. If your older child is going to wear scary makeup for Halloween let the younger child watch and help. Letting them play and explore with masks and makeup will help them better understand that they are just for fun and aren’t real.
- Let them choose costumes that are fun and not scary. Also don’t be surprised if young children change their mind the day of and don’t want to wear their costume. Often the costume that seemed so fun in the store is too itchy or restricting when the day comes. A good idea is to use things out of the dress-up box or the closet; these items will be more familiar and won’t leave parents with buyer’s remorse.
- Choose activities based on your child’s temperament. If you know that your child will be scared of going trick or treating in the dark, go out early when the sun is still up. If you think that going up to a stranger’s house will be too overwhelming for your young child, stay home and let them pass out candy to trick or treaters. Pick activities that will best suit your child. If you have a neighbor who likes to scare kids make sure to avoid that house.
- Know when to go home. If you do take your child out trick or treating, watch for signs of a melt-down. When your child begins to seem tired or stressed call it a night.
- Choose kid-friendly decorations. Bloody eyes and scary witches are too much for a sensitive child who is frightened by Halloween. Pick decorations that are fun and have low scare values such as pumpkins, black cats and fall leaves.
- If you decide to go out at night to trick or treat bring an older sibling of family friend with you and make sure you have flashlights to light the way.
Halloween can be a fun and exciting holiday, but it is important to remember how to help a child who may be struggling with fears. With some planning Halloween can be a great time even for a sensitive child. Parents can help prepare their child, encourage them to enjoy the fun, and minimize fears by utilizing a few simple tips. Have a fun and scare-free Halloween!
By Patricia Bates, Family Life Educator, Women’s and Children’s Community Outreach Education, Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center