Taking the Fright Out of Halloween for Young Children

There are lots of ways to make Halloween less frightful for little kids, including involving them in the dress-up process, like having them help paint the face of an older sibling.(iStockPhoto)

When my kids were small, the costumes were all about cuteness – a cuddly bear, a whimsical fairy or the iconic pumpkin.

While Halloween dress-up for the under-5 crowd can be sweet, the older kids tend to gravitate toward the darker side of Halloween – goblins, vampires and zombies.

These worlds don’t always mesh.

Young kids can’t always distinguish between reality and make-believe. So when young kids see spooky decorations and are confronted with hordes of older kids clad in gory costumes, they can become frightened and overwhelmed.

As Halloween approaches, there are ways parents can help prepare their young children for the hallmark Halloween scariness.

Talk to them about what scares them.

As parents, we often go into reassurance mode, but even at a young age, children can and should be invited to express their feelings. Instead of telling them there’s nothing to be afraid of, ask them what exactly scares them. You can help by asking them to point to what’s bothering them. You can also ask leading questions such as, “Is it the noise coming from the goblin?” or “Do the blinking eyes of the bat scare you?”

Your child may have good ideas about what would help make the holiday experience more fun for them. Don’t be afraid to make suggestions – such as making a funny face at a witch costume or have them pretend to be a witch, riding a broom.

Take it a little bit at a time.

It’s a natural instinct to avoid anything that would be upsetting to your child, but that can also send a message that there’s something to be afraid of. Try exploring the scary side of Halloween in small doses. And because it can be difficult to explain these concepts to kids under age 5, it’s best to show them.

Go to a Halloween store or a drugstore and have them look, feel and explore the costumes and decorations. That way they can see that they are not real and nothing happens when they touch them. If your neighbors decorate their houses with ghosts, skeletons and spiderwebs, take a walking tour during the day when they seem less frightening.

Get them involved.

Halloween masks and faces in full paint can frighten children, even if they know the person in disguise.

One way to lessen the scariness is to involve them in the dress-up process. They can help with face painting, like putting red vampire lips on older siblings, for instance.

You can also do crafty decoration projects of some Halloween standards that are a little scary – such as black cats and witches’ hats and shoes – to get them used to the spooky side of the holiday.

Participate in age-appropriate activities.

There are plenty of Halloween-related activities that minimize the fright factor and still let small kids feel like they are part of the fun.

  • Go to a farm for a hay ride or visit a local pumpkin patch. These usually have kid-friendly activities and games.
  • Carve a pumpkin and toast the seeds.
  • Decorate your home together. They can help pick out the decorations.
  • There’s a vast selection of Halloween-themed books geared toward little ones that they will enjoy.

When it’s time to go trick-or-treating, there are usually options at business districts, which are tailored to young kids and occur during the day. While some neighborhoods are known for their Halloween festivities, they can draw huge crowds and be overwhelming. It might be best visit those neighborhoods before nightfall or skip them altogether until your child is 6 or 7.

It’s always good to keep in mind that with young kids, flexibility is a must. One day they may get intimidated and scared, and the next day they’re fine, just as one day, they want to be a lion, and the next day they want to be a princess. So go with the flow and remember, the trick to Halloween is making sure your kids treat it like a fun once-a-year adventure to a make-believe world. Happy Halloween!

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Cosette Taillac, Contributor

Cosette Taillac, LCSW is a licensed, board-certified psychiatric social worker who received her…  Read moreCosette Taillac, LCSW is a licensed, board-certified psychiatric social worker who received her master’s degree specializing in child and adolescent mental health from the University of California at Berkeley in 1988. She has worked for Kaiser Permanente for 20 years and is the organization’s Strategic Leader for Mental Health Addiction and Recovery, guiding the strategic planning for the program in pursuit of the vision to be the model of mental health care in the nation. Since 2017, she has been a board member of the One Circle Foundation, a nonprofit that equips community providers to implement evidence-based models for promoting resilience in children in the U.S. and Canada. She authored a mind-body-spirit curriculum for empowering girls as part of One Circle’s Girls Circle program. She is known for her work with Early Start, a perinatal substance abuse prevention program, which won an award from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in 2008. She has published research on Early Start and done presentations about it at conferences across the country.

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