Understanding Young Children’s Fear of Halloween

For some young children, Halloween can be a challenging holiday filled with anxiety.  Sensitive little ones are confronted with strange masks and costumes; spooky images and sounds; strangers coming to their door and other unusual rituals. Even the lure of candy is not enough to get these frightened youngsters to participate in Halloween festivities. After all, do Halloween festivities and rituals really make sense when you think about them? Let's face it, Halloween is that one day of the year when young children simply don't know what to think or expect!

In order to truly understand your child's fear of Halloween, start by putting yourself in his or her shoes. Children view the world very differently than adults. Young children have trouble distinguishing between fantasy and reality. They have a "what you see is what you get" mentality. So to them. all of those ghosts, goblins and ghouls can be quite real, even if you explain they are only "make believe." Showing children the person behind the mask is sometimes helpful, but may not do much once they have been frightened. Not only are changes in appearance shocking, children also have difficulty with the concept that changes in appearance can be temporary. Many children fear that changes are permanent or will hurt them in some way. It is similar to when young children get wildly upset about simple body changes such as haircuts, cutting toe nails, losing teeth etc. As you can see, much of their fear is rooted in their limited level of understanding which eventually gets more sophisticated as they mature and gain experience. In the meantime, it is important to truly understand the reasons why children are afraid, before you can help them manage their fears.

Another major Halloween fear is the "fear of the unknown." Halloween is full of surprises, and many of these surprises are unpleasant. Halloween is know for its eerie music, creepy decorations and figures popping out in the dark. This is a recipe for disaster for little ones! Everywhere you turn, there's no escape from the fact that it is Halloween. Grotesque costumes, bloody appendages and scary weapons are all a part of the Halloween ritual. You don't know whether you are going to see Minnie Mouse or Freddie Kruger walking down the street, in the parade, or worse yet, at your front door. Some children refuse to participate in trick or treating or parades because of this fear. Can you blame them? An alert and flexible parent is a child's best asset on Halloween. By giving children a little warning about upcoming costumes or decorations, children have the option to shut their eyes if they wish. Likewise, if a haunted house is too scary to approach, give children the option to "pass."  When children are empowered to make these types of decisions, it helps them gain control of the situation.

In addition, Halloween is extremely confusing. It turns just about everything we teach our children upside down. Suddenly, its ok to ring the doorbells of strangers, to talk to strangers and worse yet, to accept candy from strangers! (But don't you dare do such things on any other day!)  We emphasis that candy is not good for you, yet we allow children to collect bags and bags of sugar loaded treats. We make sure that children dress appropriately for school, yet we transform them into unrecognizable, and sometimes frightening characters and send them on their way. Young children must be wondering if the world has gone nuts. Talk about sending mixed messages!

The good news is that once parents have a better understanding of these very real fears, they can take action to remedy the situation. A great strategy is to prepare young children ahead of time for the upcoming Halloween festivities with age appropriate Halloween books. Knowing what to expect ahead of time by reading kid friendly books can make children more comfortable. Simple books about Halloween are a great way to introduce Halloween traditions such as trick or treating, the sometimes frightening concept of a mask or costume, and Halloween safety. Reading these books together provides an opportunity for children to learn more about this unique holiday, and to express their hidden concerns. See Recommended Children's Halloween Books & DVDs at www.littleones.com for great selections.

And fear not… with all its craziness and uncertainty, most young children eventually learn to love Halloween. It takes some longer than others to overcome their fears, but more often than not, children delight in counting down the days until the Halloween fun begins.

Have a safe and enjoyable Halloween with all of your little ones!!


For more great Halloween ideas, please visit:

 The Little Ones Halloween Special

There's a chill in the air, and that can only mean one thing to little children. Halloween is coming soon! The Little Ones Halloween Special is here to assist with your Halloween preparations. Check out our selection of Halloween theme parties & games, spooky books, haunting Halloween recipes, Halloween jokes and more! Whether you are trick or treating with your little ones, hosting a Halloween party or just getting into the "spirit" of the holiday, our Halloween feature can help your family have a happy and safe Halloween!


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