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Halloween is not fun for everyone. The spooky holiday can make young children extremely anxious if they cannot yet distinguish fantasy from reality.
To a toddler, the man who puts on a monster mask may become the monster, even if that man is the dad he or she otherwise loves and trusts. Children may believe that by putting on a costume, they are transformed into a different person or strange creature.
If a child is fearful of Halloween decorations, you can help by pointing out that decorations are part of a holiday celebration. These decorations can be likened to the candy canes, elves and gingerbread decorations we see at Christmas, or rabbits and colored eggs at Easter.
You might also explain that scary decorations and costumes are used because older children enjoy them, but that they will be put away when Halloween is over. If store decorum continues to frighten your child, it may be best to leave him or her at home until the displays are taken down.
Decorations aside, even children unsure about Halloween can enjoy dressing up for the occasion if their costumes are fun and not scary. Superheroes, princesses and non-threatening animal costumes are acceptable to most kids. Masks can be especially creepy, so consider using face paint instead. Allow the child to try on and play in the costume before Halloween in order to ease his or her anxieties.
Parents and grandparents naturally enjoy showing off their little ones dressed in Halloween costumes, but not all children will be thrilled about trekking house to house – even for candy. With an anxious child, it is better to trick-or-treat during daylight hours and to only visit the homes of familiar people.
Unless wary children do so willingly, ring the doorbell and say “Trick or treat” for them. If they remain uncomfortable and beg to stop, then it is best to head home and put trick-or-treating on hold for a year.
If a child expresses Halloween anxiety or wakes up crying from nightmarish dreams, let your child share his or her fears, and gently reassure the child that he or she is safe. Because a child’s perception of what is real and not real is illogical, telling him or her there are no such things as monsters will not be especially helpful. When a child feels secure in the presence of parents or caregivers, his or her anxiety will fade.
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