Shoestring Tightrope

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Does Halloween have to be Scary [Part 3]

IMG_3393.JPGEveryone gets scared. Instilling some tactics in our children to help deal with the inevitable “Boo” that especially beckons around Halloween is not only helpful for the whole family, but important for the child.  Things that scare us are not always Halloween-related.  As we all know, scary can be make-believe, or real.  Both are emotions that we can help to identify, address, and help them to cope with.

From ages 4 to 6 years old children commonly have fears about non-realistic things, such as ghosts and gouls.  Believe it or not, these fears are magnified by the Halloween holiday (I know, DUH, right?) and its important we’re, as parents, are aware of this.  Part of the reason I’m writing this series is because I do have a 4-year-old daughter who is aware of such things as “Monster High” that magnify the inevitable morbid curiosity in her.

The above photos are of a Monster High doll (no, we don’t allow anything Monster High in our home for what I assume are obvious reasons), a Google search result for “scary costumes for young children” in which it returned an image of a young boy in a costume depicting him holding his own, severed head with a knife and bloody neck, and that last one is of a scared cat… because I was a total scardy cat after seeing these costumes actually exist.

Creating a safe, comfortable, and positive environment in your own home is pretty much easily attainable.  However, creating that same environment outside the home is more easily written than done.

Here are some steps to take this Halloween when Tackling the Scary:

  • Identify the scary.  My daughter will often go and stand by something like a scary ghost decoration, or grab my hand when something she sees up ahead that scares her.
  • Lets say that the “scary” is the fear of a monster. Help the child see monsters as “human”. Have a little story about a family of monsters that addresses them nurturing each other and imitating love that is the same as in your family.
  • Sometimes I tell my daughter that things are not real.  Imagination is a powerful trait in young children, and telling them that things like fairies and dolls aren’t real can really harm them I feel.  But as for some things that are hard to grasp, like an adult dressed up as a scary goblin, I will tell her that that goblin isn’t real. When appropriate, you may even ask the adult to remove a mask to see the person inside.
  • Getting too close to dressed-up people that frighten our children, especially with them in our arms,  can make them feel that they’re out of control.  They bury their faces in our necks and often scream or cry.  Try backing away from the character and ask them to get down on the child’s level, still remaining several feet away from the child. Even if the little one never turns around or shows interest in going closer, let them know you are on their side.
  • Remind your children that you are the parent, and its your job to protect them.  You will hold their hand and stand right by their side as you face their phobias and fears together. You have fears too- try talking about strategies you have when you have to face your fears.  (Example: I hate snakes.  Seriously, hate those things.  But when I see one on the sidewalk, I back away and look at it from a distance.  Gradually the snake moves on.  I don’t voice to my children that I hate snakes… I just observe them and comment on how they have scales or use their tongue for smell. Then I tell my daughter that, although I fear snakes sometimes, my strategy is to distance myself from them to make myself feel more secure about them.)
  • Read books about things that might give them the heeby-jeebies, such as spider, bat, or snake books.  Read books about Halloween that talk about being scared or facing fears.  If you’re religious, turn to your faith for advice and/or proverbs about being brave, being protected, or facing your fears.
  • Always let your child tell you what’s next when it comes to their fears. YOU, the parent, know YOUR CHILD. You are your child’s own best detective and protector when it comes to fears.

My brave daughter facing a snake in the grass!  Go Girl!

Does Halloween have to be Scary [Part 2]

Costume Choice

When trying to make Halloween less scary for your little one, think about how a costume choice can help them feel in control of the “scary” factor (or lack thereof) when it comes to the holiday. It can be really fun to help your little one think up, design, and create a unique outfit.  Recently a friend of mine, Bre Blake of Family Inspirations Photography of Denver, planned, dressed, and photographed her daughter in her Halloween outfit early. Her she’s captured the beauty and wonder of dressing up:

Can’t you just SEE the happiness in this little one as she prances around in her costume!? I adore how Bre captured her spirit!

Dress up your little one early, trying out the costume.  This  does many things, including:

  • familiarizes them with the costume choice
  • helping to create growing excitement
  • finding out if there are any adjustments needed beforehand
  • putting any questions or concerns at ease for the child

Does Halloween have to be Scary [Part 1]

Putting the “happy” in Happy Halloween is not always the easiest thing to do!  Last Halloween there was a particularly scary house that had spooky, ominous Halloween sounds on a soundtrack playing outside its windows in our neighborhood. G was both enthralled and yet terrified, and I remember her insisting on stopping on the sidewalk to take in the sounds and watch the other children’s behavior as they trick-or-treated at that home. I believe, as parents, we can all explore ways to help our children feel safe and comfortable during this season’s celebration. So… how can we explore this interesting holiday with little ones?

DIALOGUE FROM PARENT(S):

Setting out on this holiday, you may find that your family would rather not do “scary” costumes, or Halloween at all. Sit down and have a family meeting (especially if you have older siblings that may want to use the holiday to wear especially scary costumes) and outline what exactly you’re comfortable with in your family.

“In our family we are not going to dress up scary.  No fake blood. No fake teeth. No toy guns. This is what your father and I have decided that is best for our family.” 

or “In our family we are going to celebrate Harvest Time, but not Halloween. Other families may celebrate Halloween.  All families are different.  But in our family we will be celebrating Harvest Time around the same time as Halloween.”

If you do decide that Halloween is a “yes” for your family, you may choose to explore the Halloween props, decorations, and costumes together. Halloween is showing up at the grocery stores these days, so you will find ample opportunity to explore these things.  Go up to a silly, slightly-scary mask and turn it inside out.  There’s nothing inside. (Don’t put it on though!) Have your little one see that its pretend.  “What a silly thing!” you will say, laughing and smiling.  Put the mask back on the shelf without wearing it. Here are some helpful sentences to explore while looking at anything that seems to capture your child’s attention that may be considered scary:

“In our family we don’t wear scary masks like these.”

“Sometimes I see something scary like these things when Halloween is coming. But I know that they are pretend and it makes me feel better.”

“Some adults and older kids like to wear some scary masks and costumes when its Halloween. But I know that its just pretend.”

“That makeup can make [that person] look scary. But when they go home tonight they will take a bath and wash it all off.”

Come up with a sentence that makes the child feel in control and more comfortable, such as the one we use from our beloved Madeline book;

Madeline says “poo poo to the tiger in the zoo”

G has since found comfort in saying “Poo Poo” to things that she may find scary or silly. It makes her laugh during what would otherwise be a tense moment. Find a similar phrase that your child can use when he/she feels like they need to take back their control of the frightening situation.

JOURNALING/QUESTIONS:

Explore and journal (if your little one is old enough to write about his/her day) about this holiday. Ask questions such as:

“What do you think you’d like to be this Halloween?”

“What are you looking forward to most this holiday?”

“What kind of candy should we hand out this year?”

“What kind of activities do you think we should try this year to celebrate the season?”

These questions are open-ended and, depending on the child and his/her age, can help to foster an excitement and not a fear when it comes to Halloween.

EXPLORING OTHER WAYS TO CELEBRATE THE SEASON:

Some of the families we meet decide that Halloween is not for them.  Instead they go to local Harvest Festivals, October Parades, have a Hunter’s Moon party, and find other ways that are right for their children.

I know that local churches have smaller, more young-child-friendly trick-or-treating on Halloween night or trunk-or-treating.

A family I know has also decided to celebrate the Harvest Time instead of Halloween because their little one has some special needs.  Their approach is to go pick pumpkins in the local pumpkin patch, to bake pumpkin bread, to make hot chocolate, and to put out a bucket of candy on Halloween night and instead opt for a movie night with their little one.  This is what they’ve decided is appropriate and right for them.  Another family I know has found a trick-or-treating event that is specifically tailored for children that have Autism.

Whatever you decide is best for you and your family during this holiday, stick to your intuition! And don’t forget to have fun with your children as the air chills and the leaves fall. Whatever you believe, its a fun season to explore with children!