Dear Dr. Day Care,
My three year old son is very scared of Halloween! When I took him shopping and he sees the costumes and decorations, he cries to go home. I really want him to dress-up in costume and go out trick or treating tonight. What should I do?
Many children experience a heightened sense of fear at this age- especially fear of the dark and visual fears such as “ghosts and witches.” This stage, and so many others that will come up, will soon pass. However, while your child is going through this stage he is truly and undoubtedly scared.
One idea to assist him throughout the stage is to read him a non-scary book about Halloween. Before you start, explain what the book is all about and ask him if he would like you to read it to him. If he says no, respect his wishes and ask him if he is ready to listen at another time.
Another tip is to tell him stories about when you were a child and how you enjoyed Halloween. If he says he is scared, ask him to explain why he is so scared of this time of year. This could be the opportunity to find out the source of his fear. His feelings can give you a direction to identify and console his concerns.
Often children that were not afraid of certain things (such as masks or people in costume) suddenly display signs of new fears. So please keep in mind that your child may be very fearful of masks and this year’s Halloween season can be a difficult time, even though last year went smoothly. Your child might even refuse to dress in a costume or put a mask on their face, so please respect the child’s space.
If he is not willing to dress-up for Halloween, he may be willing to have you simply paint his face and wear his own clothes to go trick-or-treating or help you pass out treats at your home. This way you are respecting his wishes throughout this stage of development.
If he chooses to go out trick-or-treating, let him have a sense of control on Halloween night. Explain that you will be going out together to collect candy and when he is ready to go back home you will bring him home.
After the event (whether he goes out or stays home), take time to continue to have an open conversation on the subject. Praise him for his efforts but do not degrade him for staying home. Enjoy whatever happens — there will be more Halloween festivities to come in your child’s future.
Mary Ann Shallcross Smith
President, Dr. Day Care