What If Your Kid is Terrified of Halloween

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kids terrified of halloween

The mere mention of Halloween usually evokes images of costume parties, parades, pumpkin picking, 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 as children carefully choose their Halloween costumes as if they were a matter of life-and-death. They contemplate the neighborhoods, number of houses, and trick-or-treating routes in order to figure out how to collect the maximum amount of candy in the shortest amount 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 Halloween may excite many children, the day can also trigger fear, anxiety, and dread in others. 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 appear scary and to give others a fright. 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. 

Instead, allow your child to verbalize their fears and make sure to 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 disconcerting.) 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.  

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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 less frightening. 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 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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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.
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