By: Kerry Kelly Novick
Halloween is coming, bringing thoughts of pumpkins, candy, and costumes. It also evokes the excitement of being out in the dark and the scariness of ghosts, goblins, and witches. Schoolchildren enjoy testing the limits of their bravery, confirming their new found independence and knowledge by pretending to be monsters and so forth. For little children, however, Halloween can be very scary, unless we make sure that the celebration matches their level of understanding.
Preschoolers are just learning all about the world around them, anchoring themselves in what they are used to. Very young children do not understand masks and find it hard to remember that it may be a familiar person behind the different face. To them it can be terrifying when the familiar child or adult disappears, to be replaced by a strange-looking, motionless mask. Older children know that monsters and ghosts are imaginary, but little children don’t yet know the difference between real and pretend. They may be confused by the images they see in stores and on neighborhood lawns and frightened when people dress up as witches or vampires.
Preschoolers turn to their parents, grandparents, and trusted adults for reassurance. It helps them make sense of their experiences when grownups are consistent. Adults dressed up in costumes can be disorienting and confusing. We will have more fun at Halloween if we are available to ensure our little one's enjoyment.
Other people may not understand how preschoolers think and feel – if you go trick-or-treating, grownups may answer the door in scary costumes or startle children with sound effects or saying “boo,” so it is important to accompany your little one. Walk up to the door with your child and have an adult available to each child to explain what is going on and make sure that each part of the experience is fun. A walk in the dark to a few familiar houses is adventure enough for most preschoolers!
Making costumes out of readily available clothes and props at home can be a shared creative activity that makes the run-up to Halloween part of the pleasure. Imitating familiar real-life characters (firefighters, nurses, construction workers) or animals like cats, bears, or tigers is a way of learning about the world. It is also easier to make such costumes visible, safe, and cozy for a cold, dark evening!
There is another aspect of Halloween that can be scary for young children – overexcitement is scary in itself, as the feelings threaten to get out of control. Holidays are exciting times, but little ones are just beginning to master their feelings. Measured Halloween excitement can be a shared pleasure that helps your child grow. Have a Happy Halloween!