Halloween is a yearly tradition that is completely unlike our normal day-to-day life. It’s a day where we deliberately intend to scare people, and we call it fun! On Halloween, children get to do things they aren’t allowed to do any other night of the year, like knock on strangers’ doors around the neighbourhood and accept their sweets. It’s no surprise some children get nervous around Halloween, and that parents struggle to navigate how to make this more enjoyable than spooky.
Some parents may avoid Halloween in the early years, but avoiding all the decorations in the shops and outside others’ homes may not be possible, and I would also not recommend that you do. Although it may seem easier at first, it doesn’t help to wrap children in psychological bubble wrap to avoid anything that scares them. Avoidance makes anxiety grow greater. The less you see or do of something that scares you, the more terrifying the idea of doing it becomes. You won’t be able to avoid Halloween and its many spooky decorations, so whether you decide to celebrate it or not, here are some tips to guide you in helping your child overcome any fears that might show up around this day:
Prepare for Halloween weeks in advance
The best time to address Halloween fears is not on October 30th. Ideally, it’s a month before, but 2-3 weeks earlier can be good enough! Children learn best through repetition and play. Have you ever witnessed your child play the same game over and over and over again? That is how they learn and consolidate skills!
Little ones struggle to distinguish between fantasy and reality. Their brain is full of ‘magical thinking’ that helps them have wild imaginations which can be really magical during childhood, but also add a lot of fear. When children see someone in a dark costume wearing a mask, they don’t recognise that it’s Aunty Lucy even if she is wearing her usual coat and talking in a friendly manner, they just see someone who looks scary coming into their home.
Preparing for Halloween can look like:
- Talking about it, reading books with Halloween themes to think about how they might feel about scary costumes such as skeletons, witches, and ghosts. This is a gentle way of exposing your child to talk about things that may frighten them while feeling safe in your support. Some books that I use include: ‘Funny bones’, ‘Peppa’s spooky Halloween’, ‘Ten Little Monsters’, and ‘Splat the cat: What was that?’ There are plenty of books with a Halloween theme, I recommend going to the library to find them.
- Watching cartoons and films can also open up conversations and give children’s feelings some space to come out, be normalised and thought of. Films such as Hocus Pocus, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Casper the Friendly Ghost are all PG and can be watched as a family to grow exposure on some of the Halloween themes without escalating fears.
- Showing your child Halloween decorations and costumes in the shops. Let them touch and play with the on/off switches of any animated decorations and allow them to see it isn’t real. Try and make light of the decorations and the props. Rather than shouting “Argh! That’s scary!”, make it silly and fun, “Ha ha! Oooooh it’s trying to make a scary laugh! Can you do a scary laugh like that? I’ll try… Wahahaha… ha ha ha! How silly!”. This helps children learn the difference between something that is pretend and something that is real. When something is funny it’s much harder for it to be scary.
Get your child involved
One of the best things of any festive holiday is that it invites the possibility for moments of connection and family traditions. No matter what age your child is, get them involved in preparing for Halloween and build some family memories around it.
- Invite your child to be actively participate so they can touch and experience the pretend parts of everything you do in a real concrete way.
- If you want to carve pumpkins, get your child to draw on the face while you carve it, this will make them much less intimidating when they see them glow in the dark on others’ doorsteps.
- Bake a cake or cookies together and decorate them in a spooky theme. You can also use a Sharpie pen to draw vampire faces on bananas and satsumas, get your child to draw the scary faces and see how much funnier fruit can look! Help your child see the silly and sweet side of this festive holiday.
- Let your child choose their costume within your budget or even better, make up a a costume together! Remember that any form of fancy dress can work for Halloween, it doesn’t have to be scary.
- On the day, let your child help you put on your costume and watch you do your face makeup (if any). This helps children know that it is you underneath the mask/face paint.
Focus on FUN not fear!
It may seem fun to scare an adult on purpose, but with children having an adult jump out at you is just scary and can result in a meltdown. Around Halloween this can backfire as children may begin to lose a sense of safety during the day and at night. This can get in the way of falling asleep or needing more of your physical safety during the day. Make anything to do with Halloween fun, silly and enjoyable.
- Don’t jump out and say ‘boo’ to your child just for fun. If your child cries take that as a communication that this has frightened them and is not enjoyable. Make sure to reassure them that you are safe and won’t harm them so they can come to you when they are scared of something.
- If you are going trick or treating, do so during light hours and go in a group with others if possible. The light always makes things that little bit less scary for little ones. And if they get scared there is a greater gap before bedtime so you can do some co-regulation and bring back safety.
- Speak to those in your neighbourhood in advance or have a neighbourhood ‘signal’ of what is acceptable during Halloween. Most people leave carved pumpkins on their doorstep as a sign that they welcome children to knock on the door on Halloween. Talk about this with your child so they understand the rules (e.g. “on Halloween night we can knock on the doors of people who leave out a pumpkin and say ‘trick or treat’. This is the only time of the year that it is okay to do this”).
- Be there to supervise and support them when your child is offered a treat. This can be a beautiful way of modelling gratitude and teaching your child how to be polite to others in their community (e.g. “When someone offers you a treat on Halloween you can take 1 and say thank you”).
- When it gets dark, be the ones who stay home and offer treats to older children. Let your child participate by giving treats at the door and being the receiver of gratitude. This can also be a great way of exposing children to seeing that masks and costumes are simply a form of pretend play (e.g. “oh! Look it’s a scary clown! Hello scary clown what’s your name? Theo! Lovely to meet you. Would you like a lolly?”)
Mind your expectations
If Halloween is something you enjoy as an adult, it’s normal to want to recreate this for your child. Be mindful, however, of your child’s developmental stage. They might not want to wear a costume on the day. Or they might want you to not wear makeup or take off your mask. Let go of your expectations of what it will be like on the day or any aspirations you have for ‘perfect photo’ moments. Children tend to love Halloween as they get into the school years and towards adolescence. You will have many more opportunities for spooky fun in the years to come, make this moment you have now as silly and enjoyable as you can!