At what age did you first think it was entertaining to have a seven-foot-tall psychopath in a hockey mask leap out in front of you wielding a shrieking, smoke-belching 80cc chainsaw? Six? College age? Never?
While many parents dress their children up starting at a young age, there does come a time when your child may need to be “prepared” for the upcoming All Hallows Eve as well as its associated events.
As a parent, you’ve determined the readiness of your child in many ways. Going out for the soccer team, starting preschool, and even potty training are just a few examples. According to Holly Roberts, a child psychologist in the Munroe-Meyer Institute at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, a parent should take cues from their child to determine which Halloween activities—haunted houses, trick-or-treating, and more—are appropriate. “Children around the age of seven sometimes up to about 10 are magical thinkers. They don’t have the ability to rationalize a situation,” she says. Therefore, it’s very important to expose your children to scary things when they are ready.
Roberts shares that Halloween is designed to be a fun event for children and families. But, there’s no doubt there are those that approach the holiday with the intent to frighten or terrorize others. Fear, Roberts insists, is both powerful and instinctual—protecting humans from harm.
Fear obviously isn’t just confined to Halloween—it will arise regardless of the time of year. As a parent, it is important to anticipate opportunities that will allow you to teach your child about fear, she says. That’s when Halloween can actually be helpful to a child’s development.
The more exposure to “safe fear” that a child experiences with a trusted parent or guardian, the less fear they will likely experience on days dedicated to the possibility, such as Halloween.
There are many ways that you can expose your child to fear in a safe environment. If your child is requesting to watch a scary movie and it seems appropriate to proceed, introduce them to a somewhat scary movie during daylight hours. Another opportunity Roberts suggests is to visit a store around Halloween with your child to try on different masks and costumes. The masks can be funny or scary and should always be lifted to reveal the face beneath them.
If your child seems to be handling the fear of Halloween well and is interested in participating in activities such as visiting a pumpkin patch, trick-or-treating, or walking through a haunted house, arrange it when you and a trusted friend or sibling can go, too. “Feeling safe should always be the first thing a child feels with a parent or a caregiver. They will follow that lead,” Roberts says. The more people present that a child feels safe with, the better.
Most important is to remember that not all children are ready at the same time. Halloween is supposed to be fun and enjoyable, especially for kids.