11 ways to make Halloween less spooky for your child

By Rita Buettner
Flickr Creative Commons / stevendepolo

Flickr Creative Commons / stevendepolo

For parents of young children, the question at Halloween may not be “Trick or treat?” as much as “How can I help my child not be so frightened of this holiday?”

As Halloween approaches, La Keita Carter, Psy.D., director of the behavioral health and assessment services for the Loyola Clinical Centers, offers advice to parents on how to help the holiday cause more fun than fright.Here is her advice for helping a child who expresses anxiety about the holiday:

1. Control your child’s environment. “If there are a lot of fears at Halloween, don’t take your children trick-or-treating in the neighborhood. Take them to the mall or their church or synagogue,” Carter said. Then you know that people will be wearing less-frightening costumes and there won’t be as many surprises. This year she took her two preschoolers to a Hallelujah costume party at church, where there were no frightening masks.

2. Don’t be afraid to ignore the doorbell. “Skip answering the door on Halloween night because you never know who’s on the other side of it,” she said, and the costumes could terrify a particularly sensitive child. “Your kid could be afraid of that person.”

3. Before you take your child trick-or-treating, think of what you might find on the other side of the door. “You could literally have a huge rat opening the door. You know your child. If your child is a little shy around new people, do something else. Now they’re going to start to connect and think people that I don’t know are scary.”

4. Create an alternative trick-or-treating experience. “Instead of going trick or treating, try setting up family members or friends so that you can say, ‘We’re going to get in the car and go to Grandma’s house and Aunt Suzie’s house,’ and make a day of it. You can even have your family members dress up. Then they can get the Halloween idea, and not be scared of it.”

Flickr Creative Commons / Violetz

5. Avoid stores that are decorated in a way that could scare children. “Like all parents, if you’re being a considerate parent, you have to think about the environment before you put your kids into it.”

6. Be attuned to your child’s body language. “If you are going trick or treating—you feel your child is old enough and you’re going house to house—and you feel your child is pulling back, read your child’s body language. Don’t push it. Don’t ignore your child’s natural signs. They know how they feel even though they can’t articulate how they’re feeling.”

7. Keep in mind that even a child who’s not afraid can be overwhelmed. “It can be sensory overload—all of the candy, all of the questions.”

8. Create your own Halloween family tradition. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be that you dress up,” Carter said. “Maybe on Halloween night you go pick up pumpkins. Make the day about something else. You could even make the day about raking leaves into a pile and jumping in it. Then the yard gets cleaned up, too.”

9. Make the costume experience a friendly one. Ask your child, “What do you want to be today? You want to be a mermaid? Be a mermaid. Have it be a make-pretend today.” If you’re buying a costume, buy it ahead of time so the child can enjoy it and be familiar with it even before Halloween.

10. Consider how interactions with others in costume can affect your child. “Even when your child loves certain characters, those characters in life-size are totally scary,” Carter said. “We went to a party and Mickey Mouse is there, and they love Mickey Mouse, but a life-size Mickey Mouse is scary.”

11. Give your child as much control as possible. “Let him or her pick out his or her own costume, and remember that you can pick out a costume without a mask.” Some children might like a particular costume, but consider the mask to be too frightening. “Whenever you can give kids control, you should. That’s just a golden rule with children.”

Flickr Creative Commons / tuchodi

Flickr Creative Commons / tuchodi

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