Hallowe’en is on its way. The stores are filled with candy, costumes and random bloody body parts. Haunted houses and corn mazes which are hard to find your way out of, also pop up in unexpected places. Hallowe’en images of torn or missing limbs can create unknowns for a child, resulting in their speculation of how that might have happened. With the time change it is darker far sooner thanjust a few weeks earlier and being in the dark can also be scary. All of this adds up to a recipe filled with fear for our children.
Young children as well as many school-aged children have a difficult time telling the difference between what is “real” and what is “pretend”. We live in a world where animation and 3D imagining have become the norm with adults even chasing after imaginary Pokémon’s on every street corner in our neighbourhoods. How will a child know what is real and what is not if the adults also “collect” them?
Whether it is actually real does not matter to a child, particularly if it creates fear in them. Remember, the acronym for fear is False Evidence Appearing Real. Many adults as well as children are afraid of clowns, which are supposed to be fun. This is known as coulrophobia. It is not only the bloodied arm-less man that scares someone but the fun-loving clowns, zombies, monsters and unknown creatures that also create fear.
For some children, it is enough to talk about the “real-ness” of something; but, for others, they may not have yet developed a framework, from an emotional perspective, for understanding the differences just yet. As parents and grandparents we want our children to have fun; but, when it creates terror for them, it is definitely not fun. For children who have experienced war in their country of origin, they may have seen first-hand the horrors of war and this experience will re-traumatize them all over again.
Speaking of terror, parents will ask me why children experience “night terrors” frequently between the ages of 2-4 years of age. Experts agree that these “night terrors” are the child’s mind’s attempt to make sense out of images or experiences that are new to them and they do not understand yet. They appear to come out of nowhere but in reality they do not. If we do not understand something, we will do our very best to figure it out, even though it may be the wrong answer we come up with.
So whether it’s monsters and zombies at Hallowe’en or something we might be watching on TV when they come into the room, let’s do our best to eliminate the unnecessary fears from their lives. Taking the “tough-it-out-kid” approach does not diminish their fear; rather, it creates one more layer of “I’m not good enough” in their beginning understanding of who they see themselves as. The same goes for teasing bullying them or the use of put-downs. Perhaps this Hallowe’en it would be wise to give consideration to our child’s emotional safety as well as their physical safety. Asking whether they even want to go trick or treating would be a good first place to start. While they may want to “dress up”, it does not mean they have to go out. Might this be the year they want to play pretend at home? Another option might be to have them help hand out candy between about 5 and 6:30 pm when other little ones are out. This could provide them with the excitement and fun without the scary parts; thus, allowing the child more time to develop their emotional framework and this is not a bad thing.