Halloween is a favorite holiday for many children. Between the costumes, the decorations, and of course, the candy, it's easy to get caught up in the excitement of the holiday. It's a fun time for kids to dress up and show some creativity, and it's a great opportunity for families to get together and celebrate.
Whether a child is prone to anxiety, is afraid of the dark, or has a hard time differentiating between stories and real life, Halloween might leave some children feeling overwhelmed and full of fear.
Parents and caregivers need to help kids understand the difference between reality and fiction.
You can help anxious children feel more comfortable around Halloween by talking to them, steering clear of scary stuff, reading books, and helping them feel safe.
But Halloween can also be a scary time for some children. Whether a child is prone to anxiety, afraid of the dark, or has a hard time differentiating between stories and real life, Halloween might leave some children feeling overwhelmed and full of fear. Thankfully, with a bit of planning and preparation, Halloween can be a fun and safe holiday for everyone.
Why do some children feel anxious around Halloween?
Halloween is a time for fun and games, but the line between reality and fiction can become blurred for some kids. For these children, the scary costumes and spooky decorations can be too much to handle. As a result, they may express anxiety, have trouble sleeping, or become withdrawn.
Parents and caregivers need to help kids understand the difference between reality and fiction. They can do this by talking to kids about what they see and helping them distinguish between what’s real and what’s make-believe. This can help children understand that many of the things they see around Halloween aren’t real and are only pretend.
How to support anxious children during Halloween?
No parent wants their child to experience fear or anxiety, especially during a holiday that’s meant to be fun and playful. Thankfully, there are a few things you can do to help your child manage their fear and have a fun, safe holiday.
1. Talk it out
Talk to your kids about their fears. What are they afraid of? Is it dark? Is it strangers? Is it ghosts and monsters? Once you know what they're worried about, you can find a solution or help them understand that there's nothing to be afraid of.
For example, you might explain that ghosts and monsters are just make-believe and that these kinds of creatures cannot harm them, or that the blood they might see on a person’s face is just makeup, not real blood. Or if your child is afraid of the dark, you can go trick-or-treating while it’s still light out or let them carry a bright flashlight.
You can also talk to them about how they're feeling after trick-or-treating and debrief with them about their experience. This can be a great way to help them reflect on the experience, and they might realize that it wasn’t as scary as they originally thought it would be!
2. Steer clear of scary stuff
If your child is afraid around Halloween, it’s a very good idea to steer clear of anything they might find scary. Try to keep your home decorations to a minimum. If your child is scared of ghosts, for example, don’t put up a bunch of spooky ghost decorations. Stick with pumpkins, cartoonish ghosts, and other fun, festive items instead of anything too scary. You might also consider decorating with fall or another festive-themed decor that doesn’t involve anything spooky.
3. Read books together
Books can be a great way to help children understand what’s real and what’s make-believe during Halloween. By reading with your child and talking through different aspects of different books, you can help them better understand the difference between reality and fantasy.
Books can also be a great way to teach children about Halloween traditions. They can learn about why we dress up in costumes and how to go trick-or-treating safely. Reading books together can help make Halloween a fun and enjoyable time for everyone.
4. Help them feel safe
Every child is different, so consider what helps your child feel safe. Is it knowing what to expect? Feeling in control? Have a parent or loved one physically close by? You can help your child feel safe on Halloween by incorporating some of their comfort needs into the experience.
For example, if they need to know what to expect, give them a rundown of the evening’s plans and talk about what will happen. If they feel better when they’re in control, let them choose their costume or decide how many houses they want to visit during trick-or-treating. And if they like having a parent or loved one close by, trick-or-treat with them and stick close by.
5. Follow their comfort level
Follow your child’s lead and let them decide what they want to do on Halloween. If they don’t want to wear a costume, that’s okay. If they don’t want to go trick-or-treating, that’s okay too. There are plenty of other ways to celebrate Halloween. You can watch Halloween movies together, make Halloween-themed crafts, or stay home and pass out candy to the neighborhood kids. The most important thing you can do is give your child space to do things at their comfort level - do not force them to “tough it out” or do something that makes them uncomfortable.
6. Make a plan together
Make a plan with your child ahead of time about what they're going to do if they start feeling anxious. This could include things like taking a break from trick-or-treating, telling an adult how they’re feeling, going to a quiet place to calm down, or going home. Many times, a kid’s anxiety can be spurred by feeling like things are out of their control. By having a plan in place, you can help them feel more in control of their experience and help them have a happy and safe Halloween.