The family had finished their supper. Jane sighed. Perhaps next year Tommy would be old enough to want to join in with the Halloween fun, but right now he wasn’t interested. He wouldn’t even look at the decorations in the shops. Said they were scary.
‘How do you help a sensitive child who is afraid of Halloween?’Jane was thinking when the doorbell rang. She lazily got out her chair and sauntered into the hallway. But before she could get to the door Tommy streaked ahead of her and opened it. His scream could be heard right down the street. He whirled behind her, frightened gulps of ‘Mum, Mum, Mum!’ sobbing from her skirt.
Jane looked out the door and smiled. The pale-faced witch with warty face and beaky nose, accompanied by a ghoulish apparition stood looking at her, shuffling from one nervous foot to the other.
‘It’s okay,’ said Jane, half to the figures in front of her and half to her wimpering child. ‘They’re just dressed up for Halloween. You don’t need to be scared. Have a look.’ But not even the lure of sweets would pry Tommy from behind her skirt. And that wasn’t the end of it. For weeks after Tommy didn’t want to be alone in the dark and he’d jump and look fearful if the doorbell rang, even in the daytime.
Parents with a sensitive child will resonate with Jane’s story. And maybe your child is okay with scary Halloween costumes, but does that mean it’s good for her? Here are four things that concern me about Halloween, followed by six tips of things you CAN do to make this time of year an enjoyable experience.
What’s Not OK About Halloween?
- Sensitive Children can be traumatized. It doesn’t matter that you try to reason that it’s ‘just pretend’. Scary images are scary. When a child is fearful, the fight or flight reaction in the brain is activated and the child CAN’T reason until he has been calmed.
- Even children who are less sensitive are at risk because they can become blasé about upsetting scenes and their natural sense of compassion can be blunted.
- Children may become desensitised to fear. And fear is a powerful emotion that can protect us from potential danger. If children (particularly boys) are laughed at or shamed for their fearful reaction they may suppress that protective reaction of fear. Particularly during teenage years when peer pressure is so strong, if they have forgotten how to tune in to their own internal ‘danger-radar’ they may allow themselves to take part in an activity or take on a dare for something that puts them at risk, perhaps with fatal consequences – driving too fast, taking a narcotic substance, taking part in a criminal activity.
- Spiders and bats are ‘villainised’. They are amazing creatures, an essential part of the eco-chain and I believe children should grow up not fearful or repelled, but entranced by them.
- All the ‘stranger danger’ education you’ve worked at so hard through the year goes flying out the window. For one dark night it’s okay to be accepting things from complete strangers. (And of course there’s also the sugar overload!)
5 Tips to Take the Fear out of Halloween
1. Keep your child emotionally safe as well as physically safe. If it’s real to him it’s real. He needs your empathetic response. Very often we jump in with our opinions and solutions, rather than truly listening to our child’s experience.
2. Create enjoyable family traditions. Have fun as a family (or neighbourhood community) playing traditional games – bobbing for apples, finding the coin in the flour. Tell slightly scary tales (make sure they have happy endings). Use this opportunity to get to know your neighbours.
3. Encourage creativity. As one mum said, ‘When I was a kid my Halloween costume was a dustbin bag.’ Okay – that might be a fire hazard but the principle of ‘make it yourself’ can give kids loads of fun. Collect suitable recyclables, have paper punches, staplers, tape, glue, pairs of scissors, paints, black and orange paper or card on hand. Find pictures with interesting ideas. Be there to help but let the children develop their ideas. When children are involved in the creation of their costumes they are more likely to be able to enjoy the fun.
4. Create a fun (non – scary) alternative. Find like-minded friends and create celebrations that let your children enjoy the fun without the fear. We’ve had walkabout (or drive-about) suppers – all the children have a ‘first course’ at one home, then move on the another home for the main course, then onto a third house for dessert and maybe a fourth house for a warm night-time drink and a final mini-snack. We’ve had ‘Light Parties – with children coming in fancy dress associated with light – fireflies, fairies, Buzz Lightyear, a lighthouse and many other variations have arrived on my doorstep.
5. Take a stand. If you think your school is overdoing the scary stuff and it’s upsetting your child, you need to take a stand. It’s very likely your child isn’t the only one who’s unhappy about this.
If public places, particularly shops, have upsetting displays, let the manager know you don’t intend to return until the ‘decorations’ are dismantled. Whilst we tolerate the blood and gore, shops will keep serving it up to us. Retailers will soon change their approach if they realise they are losing trade by having gruesome Halloween displays.
So rather than focusing on your child’s fear of Halloween – get creative, involve the children, family and friends, and create your own traditions that will bring happy memories.
What are your thoughts and experiences re children and Halloween?
We’d love to hear your experiences.
Watch my TEDx talk: ‘In Defence of the Naughty Child – Understanding Sensory Sensitivity’