Dear Parent Coach,
In the past week my children (ages 5 and 7) have had trouble getting to sleep at bedtime. We haven’t had any obvious changes in family life, and they can’t exactly verbalize what they’re bothered by, so I’m starting to think it might be caused by Halloween images they may have seen recently. Could they have this effect?
I think you’ve guessed it! If your children watch any TV at all, the ads for Knott’s Scary Farm and Six Flags’ Fright Fest are downright terrifying, and appear without warning. Other frightening images used to hype Halloween do not take younger children’s sensitivity into account. You’re not the first parent I’ve heard this from.
For children in the younger grades, the anticipation with their peers regarding costume choices and upcoming events such as school carnivals and haunted houses, is a fairly new and exciting experience for them.
Of course your children would also have a heightened curiosity about seeing frightening images, but they’re no doubt confused and overwhelmed by them. If they have friends with older siblings exposed to more Halloween “tricks” than your children, they may also be hearing stories about the “scary edge” of Halloween from them.
My 2-year old grandson was terrified at seeing a “pumpkin faced” boy riding a scooter with a spiked helmet at the park yesterday, and is still referring to him in worried tones, even though we’ve talked about pretending with costumes. Images have more power than words.
Going to the pumpkin patch to search for the perfect pumpkin, carving jack-o’-lanterns with dad and mom, choosing simple costumes such as animals or literary characters or the latest Disney heroes, and trick-or-treating before dark at the homes of family friends and well-known neighbors is manageable for 5-and 7-year- olds. This is a good start to building age appropriate Halloween family traditions.
However, even one stroll through the costume aisle at Target begins to give young children a shocking glimpse at the scary side of Halloween, which could well be fodder for nightmares.
Seeing ghosts, graveyards, RIP signs, witches, dangling eyeballs, blood and daggers, detached fingers — how could young children even begin to have a context for understanding, or put these together with the fun Halloween can offer them? Tweens and teens, or course, are a different matter.
One parent recently mentioned that her 10-year-old daughter seems obsessed with death right now and is asking a lot of questions about it. Halloween’s disturbing props may be affecting her as well.
Current TV programs such as “The Walking Dead” and “Supernatural” have no doubt had some ghoulish influence on adult costumes and celebrations.
You can only do so much to protect your children from the scary aspects of Halloween surrounding them at this time of year, or the talk among their peers and older children on the playground.
However, you can carefully choose age appropriate activities and provide family celebrations that capture the imaginative and wholesome fun of Halloween. Having other families over for a chili supper, trick or treating in the neighborhood with moms or dads along, and returning back home for dipping caramel apples or bobbing for apples probably will not produce nighttime terrors.
Being aware as you have been, of the possibly disturbing aspects of the holiday, allows you to guide your young children toward the innocent and fun aspects available. For most children Halloween is mainly about choosing an imaginative costume, being with friends and going trick or treating on this magical night. Oh — and the candy!
1. As Halloween approaches, spend more time with your children at bedtime, offering extra security while being available to answer questions.
2. Ask your children what they are looking forward to on Halloween — focus on age appropriate costumes.
3. Wearing their costumes to local shops where merchants encourage trick or treating in the late afternoon may be less threatening.
4. This year, skip haunted houses.
5. Invite family friends for a pre-weekend chili supper (Halloween is on Tuesday). Let children wear costumes, play simple games, read Halloween books, bob for apples and make caramel apples while sipping hot cider.
6. On Halloween, trick or treat early in your familiar neighborhood — it’s a school night!