My little boy has a dark side. He's always been drawn to spooky stories and loves to pretend to be a ghost or a goblin — and Halloween is his absolute favorite time of year. Of course, not all children feel this way. For many kids, the idea of people in scary costumes knocking at their door is, unsurprisingly, truly terrifying.
Kids are all unique, and they all find different things to be anxiety-inducing. Some kids just do not like Santa Claus. Others have an aversion to pets or thunderstorms. But when it comes to Halloween, although the date is filled with parties, dressing up and plenty of treats, it is an objectively frightening occasion — after all, that's the point.
Here is how you can enjoy all the fun of the season without scaring little ones silly.
Prepare for scares
Dr. Sanam Hafeez is a neuropsychologist and a member of the teaching faculty at Columbia University in New York City. She tells SheKnows parents should try to prepare their kids for the somewhat scary Halloween season beforehand. “Taking your child decoration and costume shopping can be a great opportunity to expose what’s behind the curtains of Halloween: It’s all make-believe. Let them touch the decorations (with your supervision, of course) and show them how the costumes and the props are all fake,” she says.
Acknowledge your child's fears
Even if you think your scared child is being "too sensitive," it is very important to acknowledge their real fears and anxieties. Let them tell you how they feel and avoid the temptation to minimize their feelings.
Plot your trick-or-treat route
It’s a good idea to also plan out your trick-or-treat route to ensure that you are visiting homes that are suitable for smaller kids. Avoid any streets where the decorations have veered from just spooky to plain gruesome. If your child is particularly nervous, go in a group or even when the sun is still out if your neighbors don't mind.
Skip trick-or-treating altogether if it's too much for your little one. Instead, consider holding a Halloween party at your house or visit a daytime community event where small children are the focus.
Hafeez says it can, however, be difficult to avoid all triggers. “Children who get nervous around Halloween time tend to have a greater sensitivity to the gore and fake blood that they may encounter. This represents a challenge for parents because we can’t keep our children in a bubble for an entire month.” Not to mention an entire childhood/life.
Seek help if fears persist
Most kids will grow out of their fear of Halloween, but if feelings of anxiety persist, it is a good idea to seek the support and advice of a mental health professional, Hafeez explains. “There is a danger that children who are exposed to anxiety and fear over time turn into adults with anxiety and fear because we carry into adulthood the experience of childhood," says Hafeez. "This is just an opportunity to help your child learn to cope with their fears.”
Plan inclusive parties
Dr. Michelle Maidenberg, the president and clinical director of Westchester Group Works, a center for group therapy in Harrison, New York, found that more and more of her patients were expressing anxiety in the run-up to Halloween. When she surveyed 45 kids, she found that middle school and high school students expressed concerns about friendship groups and fitting in with their peers at this time of year. She also found that choosing a costume proved to be anxiety-inducing for them as well.
So if you’re planning a party, try to make it open to all; if that is not possible due to space or budget constraints, still ensure that specific children are not excluded. Getting together with a group of parents and hosting a joint party can help to shoulder the burden and make sure no one is left out.
But don't forget: While you are striving for inclusion, remember that many kids with life-threatening allergies or food intolerances feel invisible during Halloween. Try to cater to their dietary needs as well.
Party games that won't scare
Throw an age-appropriate Halloween party that will be enjoyable for all kids — including any who are easily scared — by carefully selecting your decorations, costumes, music and games. Save the really scary stuff for when they are older; stick to seasonal decorations such as pumpkins rather than overly gory displays. And while you're at it, plan a few fun — not frightening — activities. Here are some ideas:
- Apple bobbing
- A scavenger hunt around the house
- Freeze dance
- A dance competition
- A not-too-spooky story