Halloween decorations are in full force in stores and around town. You may notice your preschooler feeling a little more fearful than usual with the spooks and goblins lining store shelves.
If your preschooler is on the younger side, this might be the first year they became truly afraid around Halloween. One of the social emotional developmental tasks of the preschool years is to learn to cope with common fears. With some gentle guidance and understanding, we can help our preschoolers navigate this extra spooky time of year.
Bats on the brain
Around age 4 and 5, you may notice your child getting frightened by things they previously paid little attention to. A picture in their room or shadows on the wall may suddenly turn into scary monsters, bugs, or evil characters. At this age, children are learning to tell the difference between reality and fantasy, so those lines can be blurred. They are learning to cope with more complex fears, led by their growing imaginations. Common fears for this age include:
- Being alone
- The dark
- “Scary” or “bad” people
- Imaginary creatures
- Characters from movies or cartoons
The underlying theme of many childhood fears is safety. Children need to know that the adults in their lives will keep them safe until they can keep themselves safe, no matter what. Halloween brings many opportunities to reassure our kids of their safety and maybe have some fun in the process.
Helping make Halloween less scary
The concept of Halloween is pretty complex for a child: They might like the idea of getting candy, but don’t understand why people are in costumes and walking door-to-door in the dark to ask for it. There are multiple ways to tackle Halloween fears.
The first is to simply talk about it.
- Have a conversation with your child about Halloween: “Halloween is a day where kids and grownups like to play dress up. During this time of year, we are going to see lots of costumes and decorations—some silly, some spooky. Just remember, they are all pretend.”
- Let your child know that everyone gets scared at times, even parents. Share a story of when you were scared and how you faced your fear.
- Use Halloween-inspired picture books to prep your child for what to expect on Halloween and during the month of October.
More fun, less spooky.
- Consider throwing an age-appropriate, fun Halloween party during the day and avoid going out at night.
- Trick or treat at a family member or friend’s houses where you know your child will feel comfortable.
- Choose a fun costume that your child will be comfortable in. Consider playing dress up games in the weeks leading up to Halloween.
- Look for kid-friendly events offered in the community. The LaneKids calendar and GoMomGo are great resources.
Make a plan with your child about the candy. Agreements ahead of time go a long way to setting up a positive, fun holiday. If your child is sensitive to sugar, this eventually will help them become aware of how eating a lot of candy affects them, and that they can still have fun without overdoing that ends in tears.
Despite your best efforts to shield your child of all the ghouls and goblins on Halloween night, a zombie pirate or freaky alien may come knocking on your door. Teaching your child some strategies to help them when they feel frightened is a life skill that is especially helpful on Halloween. Strategies include:
- Taking deep, slow breaths.
- Using their imagination to think of a pleasant, happy memory or thought.
- Thinking of positive things to say to themselves when they feel frightened: “It was just a pretend skeleton, it can’t hurt me.”
Play at “pretend scared” with your child. They will enjoy being the “brave one” who shows you it is pretend. Jack-in-the-box, hide and seek, taking turns making scary faces are some examples of ways you can turn the tables and help build your child’s confidence in their ability to cope with fears.
You could also ask trick-or-treaters to remove their masks to help demystify the idea of costumes.
It can be helpful for your child to see you remain in a calm state in the face of something scary: For example, if a child in a scary costume trick-or-treats at your home, you could say: “Oh, wow, look at this fun, spooky costume. I bet you spent a lot of time putting together this costume. I love the way our friend here did his makeup.”
Bringing the night to a close
With all the sights and sounds, Halloween can be exciting, fun, and overwhelming for children. Be sure to give your child extra time in the evening to wind down. If they are feeling scared about bedtime, give them a high protein snack to counteract some of the sugar, spend some time reading non-spooky stories together, and get in some extra snuggles.
This article is brought to you by Parenting Now! Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson (andupdatemywebsite.com). Parenting Now! is passionate about happy, healthy families. For more information about Parenting Now! please visit their website (https://parentingnow.org/) or contact us at email@example.com
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