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If October 31 scares the bejesus out of your tot, you’re not the only parent who won’t be posting pictures of your goblins on Facebook. Not all little ones are into the scare fest—in fact, it’s not uncommon for kids to be spine-tinglingly afraid of Halloween.
Andrea Belanger discovered this when her daughter, Mia, was two. “We were trick-or-treating when we came upon the most magnificent Maleficent costume,” she says (referring to the chilling villain from the Disney film). “There was a girl sitting on her dad’s shoulders, making Maleficent at least eight feet tall. They wore a long black dress, black cape and a high collar, complete with the headpiece and horns. The adults in the group appreciated the realism of the costume, but the toddlers were less impressed.
“When Mia saw Maleficent slowly walking up the street, she begged to go home,” says Belanger. “She was terrified! That ended Halloween.”
While a mountain of candy is enough for some tykes to embrace the holiday, parenting coach Julie Romanowski says being afraid of this spooky day is both typical and healthy for kids this age.
“It’s a complicated idea; they don’t understand the concept of Halloween, and there’s often no explanation from parents, so kids don’t know what to expect. This—combined with the scary sights and sounds—would send anyone running for the hills,” she says.
Toddlers are also still a tad young to fully comprehend masks, costumes or “make believe,” too. Many won’t grasp who it is behind the mask, she says, even if it’s their close family member and you’ve shown them repeatedly. What’s more, Halloween presents a cauldron full of new emotions and actions to deal with. “There’s pressure to perform (for example, ringing a doorbell and shouting, “Trick or treat!”). They may not know what to do and can act out or get shy and clingy.”
Like Mia, Kim Hopper’s daughter, Charlotte, 3, is also a scaredy-cat. “She loves to dress up for Halloween, but once other trick-or-treaters turn up while she’s going door to door, she starts to cry,” she says. “She’ll hand out candy, but with some hesitation. We start at a distance and watch kids in costumes come to the door, and she’ll usually wave after a while. Sometimes she just curls up in a ball on my lap. Either way, I don’t push her.”
This plan of action is a good one—forcing kids to participate in something they’re afraid of won’t fix the problem. The best way to handle the fear and get a toddler ready for her first fright night, says Romanowski, is to discuss what’s going to happen.
“Allow for plenty of prep time, and use visuals, stories or books to support the discussion. Let them know who will be going trick-or-treating, what they’ll be doing and that you’ll be with them,” she says. Don’t forget to pull out the costume (opt for a darling, not daunting, getup) and play dress-up a couple of weeks before the big day to get them used to it, and make sure you reiterate that Halloween is just for fun—there’s no danger. Most important, says Romanowski, “be ready to pack it in early if need be. No cute picture is worth your child feeling terrified.” You can also throw a themed party in the daytime (avoiding the dark night altogether) and have guests nix the eerie ensembles in favour of coming dressed as their favourite TV character, animal or athlete.
With Halloween around the corner, Kim is hoping Charlotte overcomes some of her fears now, before Christmas rolls around—it turns out Mia is also afraid of Santa. (But that’s another story.)