Who's Afraid of Halloween?
I like Halloween. What’s not to like? It’s a day when playing dress up is okay, even for big kids. And begging for candy at strangers’ doors is expected! Halloween is a holiday made for kids, right? Parents of preschool-aged kids often discover that Halloween can be a really scary time for young kids.
Why can Halloween be so scary?
Young children like to be able to predict their environment. You’ll understand this if you’ve ever gotten an extreme haircut or a new pair of glasses only to be told by your child that he doesn’t like the change. Halloween is fun for older children because of how out-of-the-ordinary it is, but for young children this is precisely what makes it so scary. Friends look different and familiar houses look spooky.
Preschool children are still working out the difference between reality and fantasy. A mechanical hand that pops up from a bowl of candy is funny to an older child because she knows it’s not real. But it’s not so obvious to a younger child. When my son was four, he could not walk by a mechanical ghoul no matter how many times I safely passed it and assured him it was a machine.
What should you do if your child is frightened by Halloween?
First of all, be patient. You may have to skip the fun and head home early this year. In a few years you may have to drag your child from the Halloween party kicking and screaming!
Ease into Halloween. Play dress up at home in the weeks before Halloween. Help your child decide which costume she likes the best. Consider not paying for a costume or spending lots of time making something you love. Your child may decide that he doesn’t want to dress up at the last minute. And if he does want to dress up, some overalls and a train conductor’s hat will make him feel part of the fun just as much as the adorable gnome costume you spent hours making. The pictures may not be as priceless but you’ll know your child had fun and you followed his lead.
Consider creating your own age-appropriate Halloween fun. Invite friends to come to your house for a low-key costume party. If there are enough adults, consider having an adult go behind each door in your house and having kids trick or treat in your house. Give each adult a bowl of treats or small prizes (pencils, dress up necklaces, stickers) and ask them to go into a few rooms of your house. Once they’ve closed the doors, let the children go knock on the doors. This is a great way to have children practice saying “trick or treat” and “thank you” with familiar adults.
No matter what you do, you’ll encounter all kinds of Halloween decorations in the weeks before Halloween. Emphasize that these things are silly and funny and just pretend. But don’t be surprised if your child wants nothing to do with them anyway. Take it slow. Change your plans if you need to. Follow the lead of your child. You can only be sure of one thing: next year it will all be different.
Melissa Catalano is a schoolteacher and runs My Play Place, a play-based parent-participation toddler program where kids learn, create and socialize in a fun and safe setting. She holds a B.A. in Human Biology and an M.A. in Education from Stanford University. In a day filled with teaching and running a business, parenting is the job that still provides the most challenges and rewards.
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