Helping children who find Halloween frightening…
Love it loathe it, Halloween in all its spook and gore is here to stay. For many children it is a welcome event but for others it is a frightening experience that can bring on very real feelings of fear, dread and panic. Whether you and your family choose to mark or avoid Halloween is down to personal preference but ignoring its existence can be tricky and some children may need a little support. To help, here are our suggestions for making Halloween a little less scary:
FIGHT, FLIGHT, FRIGHT
Feeling fear can manifest in a very physical way and should never be dismissed or belittled. Instead reassure the child that to feel fearful is normal. It is a natural response to perceived danger. Help the child to breathe slowly and deeply by modelling each breath with them. If the fear has developed into panic and the child is hyperventilating then show them how to breathe slowly and deeply into a paper bag. Keep reassuring them that the fear will pass because they are safe and nothing will harm them.
FREAKY FAMILIARITY & EERIE EXPOSURE
Halloween paraphernalia can usually be found in shops from early September. Make a point of visiting and drawing attention to Halloween themed window displays, dedicated aisles and decorations to help children familiarise themselves with it. Point out that these skulls, masks, costumes etc are here because it will be Halloween soon and some children and adults like to dress up, eat spooky looking food, play games and go trick or treating. They do this because they find it fun to pretend to be ghosts and ghouls because these things do not really exist in real life. Explain that not everyone finds it fun and some people choose to do nothing and that is okay too. Gentle, informative exposure is a very powerful tool in combating feelings of fear as fear is often rooted in what could or might happen, not what will happen.
This is where a trial run can be useful. When helping children with familiarisation and exposure, start small. Perhaps point out one thing each time you visit the supermarket. If you notice the child becoming anxious don’t move away quickly, stay for at least five deep breaths before reassuring them, explaining to them why these Halloween things are here.
Even if you and your family do not partake in Halloween, treating everyone to food or drink loosely related to it can help reduce anxiety and fear. Again it helps children to familiarise and thereby normalise the imagery associated with Halloween. Think pumpkin cake, a monster face pizza or a ghost shaped biscuit.
SCARY STORIES & PETRIFYING POETRY
In order to help children to understand the characters they may see around at Halloween are make believe, share stories and poems together that contain ghosts, witches, vampires and the like. Similarly children’s movies such as Hotel Transylvania and Casper the Friendly Ghost can be watched together and later discussed, paying particularly attention to the fact that these characters do not exist in real life and that some people may choose to dress up like them on Halloween.
Many children and even adults like to dress up for Halloween but it is often the costumes, particularly the masks and blood that can cause fear. Exposure to masks, wigs, fake blood etc prior to Halloween as mentioned earlier is important for fearful children who are likely to come into contact with people in Halloween dress. Handling scary masks and when they are ready, trying them on, making masks, experimenting with fake blood or helping other children to dress for Halloween can all be helpful activities. If the child does wish to dress up, let them decide what they want to be even if their choice is not a halloweeny one.
Choosing the perfect pumpkin and carving it has become a popular Halloween pastime. Why not make a family visit to a pumpkin patch before taking a pumpkin home to carve? The internet is full of ideas for carving and they don’t even have to be spooky. If a more traditional pumpkin carving is desired the face need not be scary. A friendly, happy looking pumpkin will look just as effective as a lantern.
Halloween inspired crafts can be fun, cheap and easy to do. Look locally or search on social media for special craft events. Community Jellyfish Teachers often do Halloween craft workshops and report how calm and relaxed the children are afterwards. Creating and colouring spooky decorations and pictures help the child to connect to the content in a safe, non-threatening way as they are the creators.
Before bedtime, Halloween should be put to rest. With fearful children, bedtime, especially on Halloween night, is not the time for a spooky bedtime story. Instead opt for a favourite book and the usual bedtime routine.