Halloween is a fun holiday if you're the type of person who likes blood, scary movies, and lots of candy. I, however, am one of those people who can't even bear to watch the trailer for Stephen King's new movie "It." My daughter saw the full-length movie and said, "It was awesome! I was so scared." Go figure.
For some people, feeling scared is actually fun, but for others, being scared feels awful, and can lead to anxiety.
So, as houses are getting decked out with coffins, and cars in the parking lots have bloody limbs hanging out of their trunks, I can't help but think of how our children can possibly manage all these frightening displays.
How can a parent best help an anxious child face Halloween? Here are some practical tips.
Reduce Other Stressors
Because Halloween with kids can get hectic, it would serve you well to do everything in your power to de-stress the rest of the evening.
A good night's sleep, preparing a healthy dinner, triple checking the costumes before sundown, and other such planning will free up energy for the big night instead of heading out tired and wired.
Validate Their Feelings
Never shame a child about their fears or minimize how they are feeling. Instead, let them know that you understand that they are scared and that the things they are seeing are actually meant to be scary.
Re-assure them that as "real" as the costumes and decorations may look, and as real as their fear and anxiety may be, they are safe. These are just humans dressed as scary things and toys on a lawn, not real bodies or real coffins.
Find The Right Amount Of Exposure They Can Handle
Don't drag your four year old kicking and screaming into the haunted barn against their will. Instead, build their courage to face progressively bigger fears by taking small manageable steps that build one's confidence. They need to face a fear, go through an unpleasant experience, and see that they managed anyways.
For little kids, that might mean walking around your neighbourhood in the daylight and approaching the displays while holding your hand and investigating firsthand how they are fake. Next, they might walk around the neighbourhood at night before Halloween and see how everything is lit up.
The night of, they may agree to just walk the streets they have previously checked out and not trick or treat at all. Simply seeing the streets filled with people in costumes and howling soundtracks coming from front porches may be enough for this year, and that is perfectly fine.
This is a tough one for parents. We realize how real our child's anxiety is so we take pity on them and find a way for them to avoid their suffering. If knocking on the door and saying "trick or treat" is too scary we buy a bag of candy for them so they don't have to suffer that part of the tradition.
Instead of making accommodations, say, "One year you will want to trick or treat to build your courage to knock on the door — its OK if it's not this year." Now the stakes for facing their fears has increased. They will think, "If I want those Smarties, I gotta face the demons."
Manage Your Own Embarrassment
Some parents are embarrassed or ashamed that their child is clinging to their leg while all the other kids are running up to the doors having a blast.
Our own fear of judgment from our friends about our parenting can be a powerful influence in how we react to our own children, but that's our own anxiety acting up.
Our anxieties may be reduced if we do our own dress rehearsal of how to handle this frightening situation. Practice what you will do and say in advance, so when you get triggered by your child's anxiety you can respond with consideration instead of reacting impulsively to save face.
What is that one line you need to rehearse that will come in handy? Something like, "Don't mind Hannah, Halloween is not her favourite holiday. She is practicing her courage at her own pace and it seems this is her limit for tonight. Her courage is growing every day."
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