Let’s face it. Halloween is about scaring others and being scared. It is one of the most anticipated holidays of the year, but it can involve blood, gore, scary faces, loud noises, darkness, and going to stranger’s homes. Whoa! How does this fit with trying to keep children’s worry level low? With some understanding and pre-planning, the holiday can actually help children with anxiety. Here are some things to consider plus eight tips to decrease your children’s Halloween worries.
Learn Mastery over Fear
Although Halloween can be a great stressor for children and parents, it can also be the perfect time to address worries in a positive and skill-building way. Psychologists tell us that in order to master anxiety:
- We must identify our fear
- Eecide whether the feared event is harmful or not
- If it is not harmful, then address the fear in a positive way
- Keep building on the success experience
Here are two examples:
Last year, Zoe became very frightened by the scary costumes, the dark, and the noises at Halloween. This year, her parents went to look at costumes ahead of time to see that even really scary costumes were just fabric and plastic, not monsters. Then they spent time outdoors at night and made loud, scary noises for fun, showing Zoe that the dark and the noises were not harmful. Finally, together they came up with things Zoe could do when she feels afraid; like taking deep breaths, talking with her parents, and telling herself that Halloween scary things are not real. (For more ideas, here’s a book on children and worry for more ideas.)
Also last year, Jonathan became very scared of a giant yard dragon decoration and he wouldn’t even walk down the street where it was. At the time, his parents wisely didn’t force him to go down that street, but later they found a costume similar to the dragon and let him play with it all he wanted. As he took the costume on and off and made-up games with the dragon, he learned that the dragon wasn’t real and he could master the fear.
Tips to Decrease Halloween Worries & Be Safe
There are specific things you can do this Halloween to lower your child’s (and your own) anxiety.
1. Even Dr. Fauci says it’s okay to trick-or-treat this year, but do have your kids wear a mask (not with their costume mask so they can breathe better) and stay outdoors. When you accompany them, bring a flashlight and hand sanitizer.
2. With your kids, take the time to learn where Halloween originated. It is a centuries old fascinating holiday where folks used to carve turnips, not pumpkins.
3. Help your kids learn the difference between fantasy versus reality. Tell them that the scary costumes and decorations are for fun, with only people in the outfits. There are no real monsters. Go to a Halloween store ahead of time to look at all the costumes. Then practice mastery over fear by saying “These are just pretend and silly costumes. They won’t hurt anyone.” Your kids will quickly get the hang of it.
4. Involve your kids in Halloween’s activities like carving pumpkins and creating a Halloween costume.
5. Create new family traditions for Halloween. You can read books on scary tales of monsters, spiders, or bats that have happy endings. One good book is the Shrinking the Worry Monster, which will address monsters and worry at the same time.
6. If your kids melt down during a trick-or-treat visit; stay calm, reassure your child, and tell the hostess that your child is just learning about Halloween.
7. If you are the hostess at the door, keep germ contamination to a minimum. Wear a mask, you be the one to pass out individually wrapped candy, and do not invite kids indoors.
8. If you or your child really don’t want to go out to folks’ houses this year, that’s okay. Have a Halloween gathering in your house with your family and friends. It’s really about keeping a tradition and being joyful.
Halloween doesn’t have to be a major stressor for a family. In fact, it can be a great learning experience to help children gain skills in mastering fear. So go out, enjoy Halloween, and be sure to have fun!
—Sally Baird, PhD is a retired child psychologist and co-author of Shrinking the Worry Monster, A Kid’s Guide for Saying Goodbye to Worries. See her website at www.drsallyb.com. She is available for zoom events for both kids and parents to learn ways to decrease children’s worry.