Celebrating Halloween (without scaring the pants off your kids!)
Brittany Talley, MA, LPC, RPT
Halloween is here! For families who celebrate this holiday, this can be such a fun time of year. Creating rituals for your family is a great way to connect and build excitement! Some kids, however, can feel overwhelmed by the frightening imagery and focus on ghosts, witches, and vampires. This is especially true if your child is sensitive to external sensory stimuli (like loud noises), or if they have experienced any adverse childhood experiences, or trauma. Being mindful of how your child experiences and reacts to fear can help you have a safe and fun Halloween!
A few tips on celebrating Halloween while avoiding meltdowns.
- Screen any scary movies before you let little one’s watch them! I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had a kid tell me how scared they felt while watching a Halloween movie with their family and about the nightmares that followed.
- Change the tone after watching something spooky. Find a 10 minute, kid-safe cartoon, or sing their favorite song. This helps them switch their focus to friendlier imagery. It also reminds them that you are there to keep them safe.
- Make sure you have enough time after the movie is over to sit and talk with them about it. This can help them figure out what is real and what is not. Remember, even though the movie may not be real, the feeling of fear that is experienced is VERY real to children.
- Be prepared for nightmares. Even movies that seem safe can produce nightmares in children. Be there to comfort them and provide them with a sense of safety. Stick to their regular bedtime routine to provide structure, and reassure them that you will be there if they need you.
The Main Event
- Do your research regarding Halloween events. While most family-friendly fall events are more focused on pumpkins and cider, some may have Haunted Houses or Hayrides that can be scary for younger children (or sensitive older kids).
- Dressing up in costumes and getting lots of candy can be so much fun! However, if your kid struggles to manage anxiety or fear, knocking on strangers’ doors can be stressful. Check in with them frequently during trick-or-treating to see if they need a break.
- You can also try an alternative to traditional trick-or-treating. Many churches or community centers provide trunk-or-treat events, which typically occur during daytime hours. Some kids also have just as much fun answering their own door and handing out candy!
- Do not shame them for feeling afraid. You may be able to experience that feeling of fear as “thrilling,” or “exciting.” Most children do not yet have the emotional maturity to be able to experience or process their fear as fun.
- If your family likes tricks more than treats, remember that our natural survival instincts are: Fight, Flight, or Freeze. Don’t be surprised if a frightened child reacts in one of these three ways. They are simply doing what nature intended for them to do.
- Validate their fear. Help them manage it. Tell them “I can see that you are scared. I can tell because your eyes just got really round and you moved closer to me. These kinds of movies/events scare me too sometimes. Would it help if I put my arm around you/held your hand?” This shows them that not only are you paying attention, but that you know what it feels like and can help them through it.
Hopefully this list helps you have a spooky, and meltdown free, Halloween.
P.S. If you are looking for Halloween movies to watch with your kids that won’t be too scary, Common Sense Media has created this list.
If your child is struggling with fear, trauma, or anxiety (and not just around Halloween), please reach out to us. Our counselors are here to provide support to you and your child!
Brittany Talley, LPC, RPT is a Play Therapist who specializes in working with youth of color in their journey to find their place in this world. She also works with children experiencing anxiety and fear, including those who have survived traumatic events. She believes that the relationship is what heals, and seeks to use play to create meaningful relationships with all her clients in order to facilitate their growth.