Ask the Guidance Center Experts: Taking the scare out of Halloween

Ask the Guidance Center Experts: Taking the scare out of Halloween

In this monthly column, therapists from North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center answer your questions on issues related to parenting, mental health and children’s well-being. To submit a question, email [email protected].

Question: Now that life has gotten back to some semblance of normal, my kids (ages 4, 9 and 11) are eager to go trick-or-treating this year. I’m thrilled for them, but the problem is that my little one is absolutely terrified of scary costumes.

As much as he wants to enjoy Halloween activities like his big brother and sister, he’s so frightened that I’m not sure we can take him out. He’s even said he doesn’t want to go to school that day. Any suggestions?
–Costume Conundrum

Dear Costume Conundrum: Halloween is one of the most exciting holidays of the year for youngsters. Candy, dressing up, parties at school—what’s not to love?
But your little one isn’t alone in his fear. For children around three to five years of age, and sometimes even older, the ghoulish costumes and yard displays can be overwhelming and very scary. But be assured, that’s a natural part of their development.

Luckily, most preschools and even elementary schools advise parents to avoid the scary kinds of costumes, so the schools themselves are typically safe zones. But once your son heads out to trick-or-treat, he’s likely to confront some frightening sights.
Of course, you know your son, so you’re the best judge of how scared he is likely to be. But as with all parenting issues, preparing ahead of time and anticipating any problems is the wisest strategy. Some tips:

• Let your son express his fears and reassure him in a calm voice that it’s OK to have those feelings.
• Play a game where your child scares you, and then laugh about it.
• Show him costumes online, so he’ll have an idea of what to expect.
• Do some crafts at home that create ghosts and other Halloween décor. Explain that any scary lawn displays are made of fabric and paint, just like the crafts you made together.
• Some children don’t like something like a mask covering their faces (even though they’ve had to deal with a different kind of mask for some time), so you might want to avoid costumes with masks.
• If he is frightened by costume masks on other people, put one on yourself and take it off to show him that you are still there!
• If your older kids are wearing potentially scary costumes, let your young one watch as they put on their makeup or masks, so he can gradually see how his big brother and sister transformed into the witch or warlock—and that it’s still them under the disguise.
• Make a visit to your local library and ask the librarian for books that help children see that Halloween is full of pretend things—some scary and lots of them just plain fun! One great choice: The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything.

If your son loves his costume but when Halloween arrives, his mood changes and he refuses to wear it, try a compromise. Let him bring the costume to school instead of putting it on before he goes, or have him just wear part of the outfit. It’s definitely not something worth having a power struggle over, so if he refuses to wear it, let it go. It’s a perfect case of knowing when to pick your battles.

North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, Long Island’s leading children’s mental health agency, is seeing clients both remotely via telehealth platforms and in person, depending on the clients’ needs. To make an appointment, call 516-626-1971 or email [email protected].

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