Everyday is like Halloween in our house. We don't have pumpkins year-round, nor do we eat sacks of candy daily, but we do have a little girl who, depending on the day, thinks she is Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, or Jasmine. And she dresses the part. From her bejeweled tiara to her pink, sequined shoes, my daughter Erin is transformed from preschooler to princess in the blink of an eye.
While Erin's imagination can run wild with play by day, at night it can work overtime too. Her fear of what (or who) lives in the dark will concern me this Halloween if she sees people dressed in costumes scary enough to raise the hairs on my neck.
Halloween is a favorite holiday for kids filled with fun, dressing up, imagination (and lots of sugar!), but it can be a frightening experience for some younger kids. It's important that parents are sensitive to their children's perceptions of the holiday so they can help their kids cope with their fears.
"Preparation is key," says Boston-based Early Childhood Specialist Gail Miniutti Parsons. "Some little ones are really into Halloween, and some are terrified by it; it depends so much on the child. It matters a lot on how the holiday is presented. Parents need to talk about it so kids know what to expect." Reading cheery books about Halloween, for example, can help toddlers and preschoolers understand about costumes and trick-or-treating. (See some of our favorite Halloween books here.)
Choosing a Costume
"Many preschoolers love dressing up and involving themselves in imaginative play," says Parsons. Costumes for little ones should be lighthearted and non-frightening. Parsons suggests letting your child help pick out his own costume or even design it. This is a creative and fun experience for your child, and it also helps him distinguish that costumes are pretend.
Parsons discourages parents from wearing masks and from allowing kids to wear masks. "Kids can't see with them and they are hot, so masks are totally inappropriate for safety reasons alone." Young children still have a growing sense of reality and fantasy, so even if a child hears dad's voice behind the scary mask, he may become confused when he does not recognize the face; he may even believe dad has transformed from loving father to scary monster. Instead of a mask, says Parsons, try fun face paint or a wig. Sit near a mirror and let your child watch you put on her face paint—or better yet, let her put some on herself. This reinforces that while she looks different, she is still the same person inside.
If your child is too reluctant to trick or treat, give her the option of staying home. "Some kids are just really shy and would never knock on somebody's door. It can be even more fun for them to pass out candy, stay home with mom and dad, and see the costumes from a safe place," Parsons says. It's important that parents not belittle or disregard a child's fear.