What to Do When a Child is Scared of Halloween

How to help soothe his fears and celebrate Halloween with fun instead of frights

Kids scared on Halloween
It's perfectly normal for young children to be scared of Halloween. KidStock/Getty Images

With all the excitement surrounding Halloween planning and festivities, it can be easy to forget that this fun holiday can actually be scary for some kids, especially younger children. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense that a child might get scared around Halloween time. With all the decorations and costumes depicting ghosts, monsters, zombies and all sorts of things that go “boo” in the night, it’s no wonder that a young child might become very frightened by what she sees and hears.

But there are ways to celebrate this holiday and emphasize the fun instead of the frights. Here are some ideas for making Halloween more fun and scary for your child.

  • First and foremost, don’t try to minimize his fears. If your child is frightened by Halloween, be supportive and listen to his feelings. Even if his friends or siblings are unfazed by ghosts and goblins, he is. Remember that he is an individual, with unique thoughts and reactions to the things around him, and your job as a parent is to be respectful of his emotions. Never dismiss his fears, and make sure that he knows you are there to help him deal with whatever he’s thinking and feeling.
  • Look for signs of anxiety and stress in your child. Younger children may not be able to articulate exactly what they are afraid of. It could be that there is some specific aspect of Halloween that makes them scared -- say, masks or witches or jack-o'-lanterns. Once you get a better sense of what makes them afraid, you can find ways to help her manage her anxiety.
  • Don’t focus on working to have him “get over it.” Put the emphasis on helping him deal with his fears, rather than on eliminating them since that’s something that may not happen on a timeline. Be okay with the fact that your child may not get over his frights until he gets older and naturally grows out of it. Work with him to understand what makes him frightened and help him find ways to put what scares him in perspective, such as by explaining that scary ghosts and monsters are things invented by people to make great stories and have fun by frightening each other.
  • Be mindful that something that’s not scary can still be frightening for your child. The idea that someone very familiar, like a parent or a friend, can put on a costume or a mask and look like someone or something else can be a frightening concept for a young child, no matter if the costume is a scary monster or a teddy bear.
  • Consider alternatives to trick or treating. Sure, trick-or-treating is one of the hallmarks of Halloween. But if your child is not keen on the idea, or is anxious about heading out into the dark and mingling with crowds of people in costumes to go up to strangers’ homes to ask for candy, then consider alternatives. You can host a Halloween party (and have her pick out non-scary decorations, such as fall-themed squashes, pumpkins, and wreaths) or have her help you give out candy to trick-or-treaters if the costumes don’t scare her.
  • Let him pick out a costume. Even if your child is reluctant to go trick-or-treating and wants to stay at home, let him choose a Halloween costume if he still wants one. Whether you make one at home or pick one out to buy, putting on a costume -- say, of his favorite superhero or a pirate -- can help your child enjoy the excitement of Halloween on his own terms.
  • Make your celebration about fall, rather than frights. Instead of making Halloween about ghosts and goblins, make your family’s celebration about the fall harvest. Make yummy treats such as pumpkin muffins or cookies, or make an apple pie with apples you picked at an orchard. Draw silly faces on pumpkins or do some fun fall crafts for kids.
  • Read some kids’ Halloween books with your child. Choose children’s Halloween books that are more fun and festive rather than frightening.
  • Try to find what works for your child. It could be that your child simply doesn’t want to go out trick-or-treating in the dark. Or it could be that he’s fine with spooky decorations and even scary costumes, but doesn’t like crowds. Try to figure out what is causing his anxiety and find ways to work around it, such as going trick-or-treating early, before it gets dark or the streets become too crowded.
  • Be patient. Try to remember what it was like when you were a kid. Remember being afraid of the dark, or of ghosts or unexplained noises? Sure, you may walk by a carved pumpkin or a scary Halloween decoration without thinking twice about it now, but chances are you were wary, and maybe even very frightened, by Halloween costumes and decorations when you were a child. Your kid may not get over her fears this Halloween or even the next, but with time and your patience and understanding and support, she will eventually see Halloween for what it is: a bit of spooky fun.

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