For children already afraid of the dark and things that go bump in the night, Halloween can be a nightmare. Handle their fears the right way, and Oct. 31 can still be fun for the entire family.
Masks, haunted houses, witches, ghosts and ghouls — it all spells Halloween, and what could be more frighteningly fun, right? Try telling that to a 4-year-old who’s afraid to sleep alone and believes monsters live under the bed.
According to Elaine Cudnik, APRN of Renown Health, it is common for younger children to express Halloween fears — being afraid of monsters, the dark or really anything out of the norm. “This fits in line with normal psychological development in the young child,” she explains. “They have a hard time separating reality from fantasy.”
So what may not have frightened your infant may be terrifying to your child. “Preschoolers in particular are often creatures of habit, so anything out of their routine can be frightening,” Kudnik says.
For children who fall into this category, the month of October can be traumatizing. Halloween may not come until the end of the month, but in the weeks building up to the spookiest night of the year, little ones are bombarded on all sides with “decorations” — mummies, skeletons, coffins, vampires — you name it. And for a child with a blossoming imagination who, as Elaine said, is still learning to differentiate real from pretend, “this can be very unnerving.”
Top Tips for Calming Halloween Fears
But their phobias don’t have to prevent children from participating in the fun traditions and festivities — carving pumpkins, donning costumes, trick-or-treating — that make the holiday special and memorable. We have some ideas and tips to ensure that the little ones in your life enjoy Halloween too.
- “The best thing parents can do is be supportive. Acknowledge your child’s fears, and encourage them to talk to you about them,” Kudnik says. “Empathize with your child and help them learn ways to cope with their fears. Even at a young age, you can teach your child techniques to calm themselves when scared — like taking deep breaths or counting to 10.”
- Make the month of October about fun and fall rather than Halloween fears and frights. Involve your child in the aspects of fall and Halloween that aren’t scary: Visit a pumpkin patch that offers fun activities like hay rides, carve pumpkins, go apple picking and make caramel apples, decorate Halloween cookies or cupcakes.
- Let your child take the reins with choosing a Halloween costume. There are plenty of options apart from the ghosts and ghouls — think princesses, super heroes or minions. Try on your costumes a couple of times in the days leading up to Halloween. Let your child see that it’s fun. If masks or face painting will be involved, practice that too.
- Decorate at home with your child minus the witches, ghosts and goblins. Make a chain with orange and black construction paper to adorn walls. Cut out letters to make your own Happy Halloween sign. Arrange pumpkins, bales of hay and anything else that screams fall in the front yard. Involve your child in making a (happy) scarecrow.
- Make art and books part of the festivities. Draw or paint some fun Halloween-themed pictures with your child and talk about them. It’s a wonderful opportunity to reinforce that the scary parts of Halloween aren’t real. And read Halloween books “Room on the Broom” is a seasonal favorite — a story about a good witch!
- “It is important not to push your child too far if they are overwhelmed with anxiety — don’t force them to face a fear,” Kudnik adds. So if your child is afraid to go trick-or-treating, don’t force the issue. If fear of the dark is the concern, then go earlier when it’s still light outside. If your child is just plain scared, stay home and together dole out candy when the trick-or-treaters come knocking.
Be flexible and patient. If something doesn’t work, it’s OK. Go home, pop some popcorn, watch “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” and consider the night a success.
Do you have tips for easing a child’s fears during Halloween? Join the conversation by commenting below!