Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Trick or Treat? Make Halloween Less Scary for Young Children


By: Jenn Ripepi, MD, The Choosy Pediatrician 

Halloween started as a way to remember friends and family who have passed away. All Hallows Eve is the day before All Saints Day in the Christian calendar. So how did it become so much associated with superhero and princess costumes? There are lots of sources for the history of the holiday (which was once a Holy Day) so I'm not really going to go into that aspect. What I'd like to talk about is some of the images which may be difficult for young children to handle.

Real Versus Scary


There are many who adults who like the thrill of a spooky movie or going through a "haunted" house. The surprise and anticipation is exciting and they get a real kick out of it. They know that it is all done for entertainment. The images produced may be very grotesque and horrific. But still the adult can rationalize the falseness of the spectacle.

Children, especially very young children cannot separate the pretend from the real. They see a frightening image and they become frightened, not amused. It may be difficult for them to remember that a grown-up told them it was pretend when it is so real right in front of them. These images are very abundant at this time of the year so we can't always avoid them. 

So What Can We Do to Help Our Young Children Feel Safe?


First of all, avoidance where and when possible. TV ads for movies and shows which are frightening do tend to occur more during adult or older children's programming. Some movies have previews which may be likely to scare younger children. Areas of stores or entire stores may have some bizarre costumes or decorations that can make children afraid.

Secondly, focus on the calmer and more fun aspects of the season. Talking about pretending and dressing up can help children as they develop their sense of real versus imaginary. Talk about seasonal themes like the changing weather, colors, or harvest. Creating costumes at home or doing crafts which are more kid-friendly than kid-frightening keeps them busy and engaged away from the goriness of some decorations. Some people elect to have their own less scary parties for younger children to dress up, play games and also avoid the fright-provoking sights.


Handling a Scary Situation


If you do encounter something that frightens your child, try to counter with the reality if at all possible. Have a person remove a mask or if it is a display in a store, ask someone to show your child how it works. This helps children with separating the real from pretend. Let them draw a picture of what happened and then a picture of how they can make it less frightening for them. (Kind of like in Harry Potter when they learned the Riddikulus incantation against the Boggart!) If they have nightmares or voice their fright, continue to be supportive and remind them of calmer and more pleasant images. Over time the source of fright thoughts should diminish.

On the night or day of trick-or-treat in your community, talk about what you are seeing as costumed pretenders or decorations. Remind your child that other people are" dressed up" just like your child is "dressed up" to celebrate. Remind them that people celebrate in lots of different ways. Try to avoid forcing them to approach any person or house which they feel uncomfortable with. No piece of candy is worth that! Sometimes a child will be more content and feel safer at their own home distributing treats instead of going through the neighborhood. Another option is to find a community trick or treat event hosted by an organization or agency instead of going to homes.

What have you done to make Halloween not so scary for young children? 


About the Author: I have been a pediatrician for over 25 years. My husband and I have been privileged to raise 4 bright and healthy children. I have tried to gather wisdom from the families I have been blessed to meet during my journey. I believe in practical and flexible parenting to help raise healthy adults. I love to garden, hike, travel and cook and I am looking forward to hearing from Choosy followers.

12 comments :

  1. I love this! My kiddos are all still young, and get scared so easily.

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  2. These are great ideas. My kids get scared pretty easily, too!

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    1. Mine are grown now but sometimes had trouble handling even some G-rated movies!

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  3. Great suggestions, my daughter is three so we are right at the point of explaining the difference between real and fake :)

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  4. Great tips. I dony celebrate halloween at all simply bc i never did growing up so i dont with mine

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  5. We try to avoid the scary stuff too, but this year they were introduced to blood sucking vampires. GREAT!

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    1. So how did it go? I hope you are not dealing with too much fear.

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  6. great suggestions for when our little guy is a bit older. thank you!

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  7. Great suggestions! It can be such a scary holiday. Some of the decorations are ridiculous! I like your suggestion of showing them how something works if it scares them, such as a prop. That will totally help them to separate reality vs unreal.

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    1. Showing them how something works may also stimulate their curiosity to figure out how other not-so-scary things work, too.

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  8. Thanks for sharing such important and valuable ideas for making Halloween less scary for children. You offer such incredible insight. Hooray!

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