Halloween is a very popular celebration in North America, which many countries around the world have tried to adopt, more or less successfully. It is a major commercial venture but it can be a lot of fun too, provided we bear in mind that not every child likes to dress up and be frightened and that the large quantity of candy gathered while “trick-or-treating” will bring good business for dentists!
When my children were very small we traveled to the US from Europe for a visit. It was in October and we had come from a country were Halloween wasn’t as popular, and they had never experienced it. We had arrived in a town where most houses, stores and street corners were decorated with bright happy scary pumpkins and skeletons. Those were sort of acceptable as they didn’t move, but the moving characters dressed up to surprise shoppers were not. My girls, I soon discovered, belonged to the group of children who did not enjoy scary looking masks and they would have hidden inside my shirt if they could have!
Their fear surprised me but it was real and like all feelings it deserved to be validated.
Here is how you can acknowledge the fear: “You seem scared. Are you scared?”
Reassure your child “It is your friend Joe’s brother. He is wearing a mask. He thinks it’s fun!”
You could even ask the mask wearer to take it off for a brief moment to show your child who is hiding underneath.
Help them regain a sense of control by respecting their wishes: “If you do not like this hat, you do not have to wear it. If you do not like these scary looking people, we will stay away from them”.
Whilst we must avoid laughing at a child who is scared – would you enjoy being laughed at if you were afraid of a mouse or a spider? – there is no need to become over protective. This could be an opportunity to overcome their fear and seeing other children have fun and scream with the delight of being scared might do just that.
If your child does not feel comfortable participating in Halloween festivities, stay with him, talk to him patiently and reassuringly. Set out early, before the older children go out and before night sets in, and keep things light hearted. Young children find it difficult to distinguish between what is real and what is make-believe
Some families create great scenes with cobwebs, spiders, bats and friendly skeletons on their front doors but be aware of the noisy animated puppets and masks with flashing red eyes that might just create that nightmare you were so hoping to avoid. Bringing a good flashlight can help the children who remain afraid of the dark and carving your own smiley pumpkin can make it less scary.
If your child does not like wearing masks or head gear, be creative, keep the costume simple and comfortable. Black leggings, an oversized red jumper, a black scarf for a cape can do the trick. Use lipstick or face paints instead of masks, gel and ribbons for hair instead of hats.
It is tempting to dress toddlers up to our liking, because they are so cute in that pumpkin or Buzz Lightyear outfit but we should respect their wishes and their wellbeing. Going to a play date and not being able to move may frustrate a child and create a bad memory of the event.
And then there is the Treasure! If you collect a large quantity of sweets, expect some discussion about when they can be eaten and how much! While it will be impossible NOT to taste some sweets on the night, there is no doubt that eating a large amount before going to bed will keep the children awake for longer than you may wish the evening to last!
You could discuss and agree on a plan together the day before: “When we come back from trick or treating, we will count all our sweets, throw away the unwrapped or strange looking types, divide them, taste two or three, put the rest in a safe place for the following days, and decide when will be a good time to eat the candies over the next few days”.
Dentists will say that it is better to eat sweets straight after a meal, when the saliva production has been activated, rather then randomly during the day, when the sugar will hang around the teeth. What ever the outcome of the discussion, make sure children brush their teeth morning and evening!
And if these treats become an obsession, you could offer the following choices: “We can keep them for a few days and follow our agreement, or we can donate what is left and wait until next year”.
Happy Halloween Everyone!
“Spooktacular History of Halloween”– for adults who want to know more about the origins of this celebration.
Books about Halloween – knowing what to expect in advance can make it a more enjoyable experience. Book selection.