3 yr old Robbie comes running into the kitchen announcing, “Mommy, I want to be a pirate for Halloween and Katie (his 2 yr old sister) wants to be a princess.” They’re so excited! The day arrives to go get costumes. Robbie begins telling Katie all about Halloween night, “We’ll go out after dinner and come back with lots of candy!” Then mom hears Robbie whisper to Katie, “Be good in the store or you’ll lose your costume, okay!” As soon as they see the Halloween isle they both freeze in their tracks. Mom hears Katie say, “Go home!” Robbie says nothing. They both run up to mom and squish their bodies into hers for safety; they’re really scared! Mom holds them both very close and whispers, “It’s okay, you’re safe, the costumes are pretend.” Slowly the jaws-of-life hold they have on mom is easing up… and then it happens. A stupid teenager in a gorilla mask walks up behind mom and growls at the children. They both dissolve into hysteria and tears so mom leaves immediately. As mom is telling dad the story she wonders, other than the stupid teenager what made the kids so afraid when they were so excited five minutes before? Fear can be tricky for parents. Some parents deal with fear by making light of it, and if that doesn’t work they wonder if this fear is something the child will always exhibit. Fear at Halloween tends to trigger development because preschoolers are learning about independence and power, let me explain. Development increases a child’s independence and power. The flip side of that independence and power is losing control. When a child looses control it scares him. Halloween triggers the fear of loosing control because that’s what most costumes represent to children, creatures that can’t be controlled. When they see these creatures running loose on Halloween it can trigger the same unconscious deep-seated fear he feels when he can’t control himself and that scares him, so he rejects Halloween costumes and fun. How can you help little ones get through Halloween?
- Don't belittle your child if she reacts when someone walks up to her in a mask, even if it's someone she knows. Remember to a child taking off a mask can seem like removing a face.
- Don’t spend too much money on costumes at this age because your child may announce at the last moment, “I don’t want to put it on” or “I don’t want to go out and trick or treat.”
- Try creating a different kind of Halloween during difficult developmental stages. If the kids are scared have a small party with friends and no costumes. Or have a pumpkin carving party with treats and hot chocolate.
- Don’t forget that just answering the door on Halloween means looking at scary things too!
- Be willing to come home after five minutes of trick or treating. Or be willing to carry your child so she’s close to you and up at eye level. That may help her feel less afraid.
Halloween can be great fun family—as long as you take your clues from your child. Sharon Silver is the founder and director of ProActive Parenting,www.proactiveparenting.net a site offering downloadable seminars so parents can Stop Reacting & Start Responding when handling toddler & preschooler behavior. For tips: twitter @ proactvparentng & facebook @Sharon.ProActiveParenting.Tips