What If Your Kid is Terrified of Halloween

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The mere mention of Halloween usually evokes images of costume parties, parades, trick or treating, and candy.  Skittles, Snickers, Almond Joy, Smarties, and Tootsie Rolls.  Ghosts, goblins, witches, and zombies.  It’s the very stuff that Halloween is made of.  As September gives way to October, excitement fills the air with talk about trunk or treats, pumpkin picking, and classroom parties.  Children carefully deliberate about what they are going to be with the type of precision and accuracy that one would use for life and death decisions.  They contemplate the neighborhoods, number of houses, and trick or treating routes to achieve the maximum amount of candy in the shortest period of time.  They help their parents decorate the inside and outside of their houses with maniacal excitement just to scare as many people as they possibly can.  

While this description may be true for most, Halloween can also trigger fear, anxiety, and dread for a portion of children.  These children can usually be identified fairly quickly—they are the ones who want nothing to do with Halloween and avoid it like the Black Plague.  Their parents desperately try to get them into the Halloween spirit, excitedly telling them how fun it will be to dress up and trick or treat.  They offer to buy, barter, trade, or hand-sew a costume, but still, the child firmly stands their ground.  What’s a parent to do?

Admittedly, one of the main objectives of Halloween is to be scary and to give others a good scare.  If your kid is terrified of Halloween, start by taking a deep breath and keeping things in perspective.  Trying to force and immerse your child in all things Halloween is most likely going to increase their anxiety, especially when the sheer purpose of the holiday is to be spooky. 

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Instead, allow your child to verbalize their fears and validate their concerns.  Do not berate them for being too weak or sensitive. (After all, opening the door and finding trick or treaters dripping with fake blood and ski masks can definitely be somewhat off putting).  Educate your child that Halloween is all about fantasy and make-believe.  Inform and if possible, show them that costumes, decorations, and skeletons are all fake and harmless.  

If your child is open to trick-or-treating, consider going during the day instead of at night.  You do not want to compound Halloween anxiety with potential fears about the dark.  If possible, scope out a trick or treating route beforehand and choose a location where decorations are more appropriate for our G rated friends.  Avoid houses with ghastly and grotesque décor, or those where a witch pops up upon detecting motion.  Exposing your child to a positive Halloween experience will help to counteract negative Halloween related fears.

It may also be beneficial to throw a child-friendly Halloween party with jovial looking jack-o-lanterns, apple bobbing, and candy corn.  Show your child that Halloween does not have to be all about blood, guts, and gore.  Invite their friends and make it a non-threatening atmosphere so that they can enjoy themselves and the holiday with their peers.

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If fears begin to cause significant distress and impairment in daily functioning, consider seeking professional help.  A mental health professional can provide your child with another level of support, while helping them to process Halloween related fears and equipping them with adequate coping skills to help them to manage this time period.      

With a parent’s patience, love, and support, a child can conquer anxieties and fears related to Halloween.  Maybe they will never be one of those children who map out the schematics of their trick or treating trajectories and maybe they will never put more than a minute’s thought into what they are going to be.  But, with any luck, they will be able to tolerate October 31st and the weeks prior without fear and dread.

Tracy is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is a clinical supervisor for the Community YMCA, Counseling & Social Services branch. Tracy has over 12 years of experience working in many settings including partial care hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs, community agencies, group practice, and school-based programs. Tracy works with clients of all ages, but especially enjoys working with the adolescents. Tracy  facilitates groups using art therapy, sand play and psychodrama.