This article originally appeared in the Oct. 13, 2011, edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
With its colorful costumes and endless supply of candy, Halloween seems like a holiday made for children—but some children may find Halloween to be more scary than fun. Fortunately, parents can take steps to soothe fears about the trick-or-treat holiday.
Thinking about Halloween from a child’s perspective, it isn’t difficult to see why it might frighten some children, particularly those with phobias or more timid personalities. People wear costumes and masks and put scary decorations in their yards or businesses. Ghost stories abound and scary movies can be found on many different channels.
Halloween is big business because many people enjoy being scared, as long as the danger is pretend. Some children fall into this category as well, particularly older children, who may spend slumber parties telling scary stories and watching horror movies. However, not all children enjoy being “pretend” afraid.
To help prepare, parents can talk to their children about their thoughts on Halloween. Parents can do this in a calm, neutral way, without suggesting that Halloween will be a scary time. They can broach this topic by casually asking what the child wants to dress as for Halloween or if the child is looking forward to celebrating the holiday.
Children can help craft their idea of Halloween by making decorations with parents. Stores sell scary Halloween decorations, but kids can help make silly or funny decorations out of pumpkins or other craft products. A child is likely to feel more comfortable about Halloween if he or she helped decorate the house and create the Halloween “look.”
Many communities hold events around the Halloween season. From haunted houses and hayrides to corn mazes and children’s parties, it seems there is a Halloween event for every age group. Parents with a child who is nervous or a bit timid about Halloween should research the events they wish to attend prior to going. Is the event more silly or scary? Is there a recommended age group? Doing a bit of homework before the event can help your child enjoy Halloween rather than consider it a frightening time of year.
For children who are afraid to trick-or-treat or participate in Halloween, there are alternative activities that parents can provide. They can organize a movie night at home or even arrange for kids to put their costumes on and trick-or-treat at their own house or by driving to family members’ houses.
Parents of children who are frightened of Halloween may worry that their child is missing out on a fun childhood pastime, but they needn’t. Most children outgrow their childhood fears and become braver as they become older. The most important thing is that parents respect their child’s fears and help create fun memories that will last a lifetime.
Dr. Bob Wilmott is Chief of Pediatrics at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and is a Professor of Pediatric Medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. If you have a question about your child’s health, go to the “Ask Dr. Bob” section of the Cardinal Glennon Web site at www.cardinalglennon.com.