Children's Health

How to handle anxious kids on Halloween

Double Halloween pumpkin head. Cold back light, scary smiling, warm light inside head.

Double Halloween pumpkin head. Cold back light, scary smiling, warm light inside head.  (© Michal Napartowicz)

Lots of kids love to scare, and be scared, on Halloween. But some parents may have children who get a little anxious about all of the scary things they see.

Preschool-aged children typically have the toughest time separating fantasy from reality at Halloween.

“These are the kids, at this age, who really do believe that there is a monster under the bed, so they don’t quite get it when someone puts on a mask or a costume,” said Dr. Kristen Eastman, a pediatric psychologist at Cleveland Clinic Children’s. “They think that person has actually transformed into that scary person and they don’t understand that they’re still the same person underneath the mask.”

According to Eastman, younger children may experience nightmares or throw tantrums to avoid scary store displays or decorations.

Once you recognize that your child is afraid, don’t negate their fear. A good way to calm their nerves is to take them around the neighborhood while the sun is still up, and show them some scary decorations, which can help them understand that it’s all make-believe.

You can also get in front of your child’s fear by talking to them about what they can expect and by putting together a trick-or-treat plan. This could be as simple as a parent rather than the child [ACCURATE?] ringing the doorbell then stepping back. If the person who answers the door is not wearing a scary mask, then the child can step forward to receive their treat.

“We literally practice things like that over and over to the point that now they’re laughing about it and feeling in control of it and now, instead of it being something that they’re afraid of, it’s something that they feel I know exactly what to expect and I know exactly what to do,” Eastman said.

Eastman recommends parents let their children decide which houses they’d like to approach, and letting them know that it’s okay to skip a house they might think it’s too scary.