It’s all meant in fun, but for very young children scary fun isn’t fun at all; it’s just scary.
Here’s a column written several years ago. As long as we can count on zombies and goblins to appear this time of year, we’ll resurrect it as a reminder to parents, educators and concerned adults.
Dear Grandmothers: A few years ago, my 3-year-old Phoebe helped me hand out treats on Halloween and we were having a lot of fun until a child dressed as a witch came to the door. Phoebe was terrified—she ran and hid under a table and wouldn’t even go near the door the rest of the evening. What should I do to make Halloween less traumatic for her this year? –Phoebe’s Mom
We answered: First, let us congratulate you on taking your child’s fears seriously – and before October 30. So often, we are taken by surprise when all the hype — which begins just after the Back to School sales — begins to cause our children to become over-excited or nervous. We may not realize that such behavior is all about the upcoming season of scare.
Despite all our talk to our preschoolers about the difference between what’s pretend and what’s real, they are still too young to really know this. Even though they say “I know it’s not real,” they can still be confused and frightened when confronted by witches, skeletons, ghosts and monsters – all the scary props of the season.
You can help your preschooler if you can just remember that everything she sees is absolutely real to her.
Another way to help young children is to recognize that your memories of your childhood Halloween fun are not from your preschool years. You certainly were in elementary school when you had so much fun trick or treating until all hours with your friends, watching a scary video, or visiting a haunted house.
Many parents remember only those school-age Halloweens and think that such activities are what it’s all about, even for the littlest children. But they’re not—those kinds of activities are way too much for preschoolers.
Don’t worry; you have many years ahead of reliving your childhood Halloween fun. Just don’t rush it with the little ones.
So, what can you do for Phoebe this year?
Protect her from scary TV (even many commercials are overwhelming and frightening—or, at the very least, confusing).
Be on the lookout for signs that she is overwhelmed, overexcited, scared. Is she running around excitedly, or does she cling to you, have her fingers in her mouth? Any unusual behavior at this time of year should make you wonder if she’s confused or frightened and should prompt you to ask her if she is worried about something.
Just your recognition of her nervousness will reassure her and help her to calm down.
If you can get her to tell you what she is worried about, don’t try to talk her out of her fears; acknowledge them and try to figure out a way to help her manage.
Let her decide how much she wants to participate in Halloween activities, respect her wishes. And give her a calmed down, low-key Halloween: a costume, no mask; trick or treating at a few friends’ or neighbors’ houses; pumpkins and cute black cat decorations; protections from anything that is overwhelming and not understood—or at least acknowledgement of those things and reassurance from you that you will keep her safe.
So, have fun this year, but be on the lookout for things that are “too much.” All too soon she’ll be 10 and begging you to help her put up a haunted house in the garage.
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