Family, Kids & Relationships

Experts Offer Advice For Making Halloween Just the Right Amount of Spooky For Kids

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Halloween offers spooky, scary fun for kids of all ages — bonus point to parents who get in on the act and dress up in costumes of their own! But depending on their ages and personalities, kids can have very different reactions to costumes, holiday attractions like haunted houses, and even approaching a stranger’s door to say, “Trick or treat.”

First—be prepared, and focus on the fun.

According to Jill Walls, a Ball State University professor who specializes in child development, the most important step in planning for a fun Halloween is to talk about the event with youngsters, preparing them for what is to come (known as pre-arming in the parenting literature). This approach is especially useful for toddlers and preschoolers; their love of pretend play often means they’ll enjoy rehearsing before you go out.

“Some children may be scared to approach the house of unfamiliar people – practicing ahead of time might lessen those fears, but it’s important that parents not push children to the door if they are uncomfortable. Walk with them or have them hold the hand of a friend. If they prefer to stay back, that’s OK too.”

Theresa Kruczek, a counseling psychology professor at Ball State University, offers some tips for making sure Halloween’s spooky surprises don’t overwhelm kids:

  • Limit preschoolers to 30 minutes or less of activities, including trick-or-treating, and only during daylight hours.
  • Ask friends and strangers to take off masks to show children that there really is a person under the costume.
  • Parents and siblings should never wear masks around young children who are afraid of such items.
  • In families with children of varying age ranges, allow each youngster to participate in age-appropriate activities.
  • Avoid haunted houses unless the facility offers age-appropriate activities.

Then, if your child does get scared…

If a young child watches a scary movie or gets frightened by a Halloween costume, Kruczek recommends that parents reach for a can of anti-monster spray before bedtime.

“Preschool children and those in early elementary school often have a difficult time with Halloween,” she says. “Children this age often struggle with separating fantasy from reality and a result they may get confused and think the scary elements of Halloween are real.”

“Monster Spray” can be an effective parenting hack to combat kids’ fears.

“After a frightening experience, children may have nightmares. They really can’t tell us too much about the dream, but we can take some precautions to ward off those dreams by using a can of air freshener, otherwise known as anti-monster spray, to keep monsters at bay. Monsters don’t like nice-smelling stuff.” If you want to avoid aerosol sprays for environmental reasons, pump bottle sprays work just as well. Just print or draw a new label and tape it securely over the original one.

“Just because you love haunted houses doesn’t mean your 4-year-old will,” Kruczek says. “Parents are in the best position to know what frightens their child and to help them cope with Halloween.  If kids freak out during a scary movie, they’ll freak out at a haunted house or when someone in a scary outfit comes by.”

“Halloween can be a fun event for the entire family,” says Walls. “The fun of Halloween is not all about the candy, or at least, it doesn’t have to be. Children get to dress up in costumes, and there are other ‘treats’ parents can incorporate into the evening. Color a spooky picture, carve pumpkins, bob for apples in a pot of water, tell spooky stories or read a book together. In today’s hectic and on-the-go lifestyle, time together can be even sweeter than candy.”

Robyn is Editor-in-Chief at ParentsTogether and is co-author of several NYTimes bestselling anthologies. She lives in southern Michigan with her husband and five children.