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When Halloween Is Not FunWe live on a street that goes “all out” for Halloween. We moved here when our daughter was 2, and during her first Halloween in this neighborhood at 3 she was terrified. Mentally she knew that Halloween decorations are “not real”, but a graveyard next door with a skeleton sticking out of the ground looked real enough to her, especially at night when spooky sounds were added to the effects. She lasted 3 minutes out during her first trick-or-treating outing, then dropped her bucket, screamed, I want to go home! and ran all the way back home.
Her Halloween at 4 was better, since we prepared her in advance by focusing on fun aspects, such as candy and staying up late, but still she was not fully “on board” and quickly returned home to give out candy to hundreds of kids and adults stopping by. Now at 5 she is somewhat torn between anticipation of Halloween and fear of it. It seems to me that while she is quite able to convince herself (with our help) that ghosts, witches, and other Halloween characters are not real for most of the year, her perception of reality shifts as Halloween holiday approaches.
What Can You Do?
1. Keep TalkingKeep the conversation going about fantasy vs. reality. Every day before saying good night, Smarty brings the facts about Halloween creatures that she happened to encounter in books (that’s when I sometimes regret having an early reader!). She is particularly concerned about mummies, since mummies are real. I just matter-of-factly repeat that Halloween stories are not real, and that some people enjoy reading spooky stories, because it’s pleasant to return back to safe reality. Luckily, she doesn’t have any nightmares about books that bother her while she is awake.
2. Read Some Fun Halloween BooksUnfortunately, I cannot longer control everything that Smarty reads, since she has access to Halloween books at school and in her after school program. Some of those books were way too scary for her. We are having discussions about being able to stop reading when either illustrations or text is too scary, and at home I preview every Halloween book and keep our Halloween reading light with focus on books about trick-or-treating or on funny adventures of Halloween creatures. Smarty does not like ghosts, but I want to recommend two Halloween ghost stories that might even help children overcome their fears:
Ten Timid Ghosts by Jennifer O’Connell is fun, because there are no humans involved (Smarty has a “requirement” of Halloween world not touching human world, otherwise the book disturbs her even if it’s lighthearted). The witch is trying to get ten ghosts out of the haunted house, so she can move in. The humor here is in illustrations, and in the fact that these ghosts are easily spooked.
Ghosts in the House! by Kazuno Kohara also has exacty the same theme of a witch moving into a haunted house, but the solution is quite different. This book has very little text but striking illustrations, and my daughter found it very entertaining. It could also offer a lot of opportunities to create this kind of illustrations for more artsy kids and/or parents.
3. Focus on the Fun PartsSmarty might not be looking towards spooky sights and sounds of Halloween, but she loves visits to our local pumpkin patch organized by a neighborhood charity organization. It’s not really a patch, just a corner on the strip mall’s parking lot, but it’s good enough for her, since she gets to pet animals, jump into hay and, most importantly, pick pumpkins for our Halloween decorations. She also enjoys the ritual of carving a pumpkin and roasting pumpkin seeds – alas, she conveniently leaves dealing with guts to me.
4. Do an Open-Ended Art ProjectOne afternoon I set out an invitation to create with papers of Halloween colors, googly eyes, some Halloween stickers and glittery markers and challenged Smarty to make her own Halloween scene.
It was interesting to see how Smarty decided to tackle her fears and make her own haunted house. She drew a house with ghosts coming out of the windows. Thanks to her Papa, she is really into drawing ghosts this Halloween.
Frankenstein Monster was a surprise touch. I didn’t know she knows Frankenstein. She explained to me that he is a lumbering sad creature.This is Smarty’s finished masterpiece. Go Pumpkins!
I couldn’t resist making a collage too. Smarty loved my moon.
5. Remember That This Fear Is TemporaryI am refreshing this post in September 2014 when Smarty is almost 8. She loves Halloween now, helps our neighbors to set decorations up and already tries to negotiate with us how long she will be allowed to trick-or-treat and how far from home she can venture (still with one of us in tow). So be patient with your young child and remember – this too shall pass.
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