When my son was around 2 and a half, I was involved in a local pantomime. One of my roles was a Gorilla! During a rehearsal my husband brought him to meet me and see a bit of the panto. When he arrived I waved and went towards them, forgetting I was wearing the Gorrilla outfit. He was petrified!
Of course, I took off the head immediately but that shocked him almost as much and he was inconsolable until I had totally removed the outfit and helped him to self-regulate with a cuddle and some breast milk (great stuff for immediate soothing!). What was interesting is that for ages afterwards, I would suddenly catch him staring at me as though I was about to transform and his bottom lip would quiver when I dropped my vocal tone for any reason. I had a pair of fur-lined gloves which I couldn’t wear for years after this without him becoming anxious!
Halloween is just around the corner and whilst some children may love dressing up as ghosts and ghouls and getting mountains of sweets, for some, especially younger children, Halloween can be a frightening experience.
In a similar way to how my young son reacted when he saw me wearing a gorilla suit, for younger children, adults and siblings disguising themselves as witches, ghosts and werewolves, can be disorientating and traumatic. So how can we help children enjoy Halloween?
Did you know that your body displays the same physiological reaction when you’re excited as it does when you’re scared? Perhaps this is a part of what makes Halloween so enjoyable to us as we get older!
The difference in whether we feel excited or scared in a situation is the way that our brain assesses it. For example, if we slipped and fell from a height, we would be terrified. If we bungee jumped from the same height, we would be feeling excited, as our brain has reassured us that this is a safe thing for us to do, and therefore, to enjoy it!
Think about this in the context of children’s fear on Halloween, and it begins to make a lot more sense. It explains why some children, especially younger ones, would feel fear instead of excitement when confronted by the people they love dressed in unfamiliar costumes and masks. Their brains have not yet grasped that this is just ‘make-believe’ and therefore they don’t feel safe.
Whilst we can, of course, reassure our children by explaining this to them, there are plenty of other ways we can make Halloween fun and less scary for children of all ages.
The most important thing you can do when your child is scared is to listen to their fears, support and reassure them. Show them that you understand their fear and that you’ll be there to listen if they want to talk about them. Keep in mind the difference between their fear and your excitement and try to help them enjoy Halloween with some of the ideas below.
Instead of focusing just on wearing scary outfits, or trick or treating, — get creative with your child by making something together.
Let them take control of designing and making their own costume or decorations. This will help them to feel a part of the celebrations without having to engage in anything ‘scary’.
Pumpkin carving is a fun, interactive activity that you could do together. You could even go to a pumpkin patch together to pick one out beforehand!
If your child isn’t a fan of trick or treating, why not bring the fun inside? They may feel more comfortable and have more fun in their own environment.
You could host your own Halloween-themed party including Halloween-themed food and snacks, make decorations and play Halloween-themed games.
If your child is afraid of trick-or-treaters, consider empowering them by making Halloween snacks together to give out to anyone who knocks on the door. Even if they are too scared to answer the door themselves, having a part in making the treats could help them to feel more involved and perhaps alleviate some fears.
Halloween movies don’t have to be scary. There are plenty of films that celebrate Halloween and are enjoyable to watch for all of the family. Films like Disney Pixar’s Coco, Monster’s Inc and Ghostbusters could be good options for a family-friendly Halloween movie night.