Young children regard Halloween with a mixture of excitement and uneasiness. On the one hand, the holiday means candy, dressing up, and a full day of fun with friends, but on the other hand, it means strange sights, frightening sounds, and darkness.
The ambivalence that children feel about the two sides of Halloween carries over to most aspects of the holiday, including anticipation, picking out costumes, and trick-or-treating. And parents have ambivalent feelings, too, about the issues of safety and eating sweets.
Before Halloween begins, some parents find that their child’s behavior changes. She may become more silly or aggressive or may whine more than usual, asking again and again, “How many more days till Halloween?” Much of the difficulty before the holiday centers around her desire to wear her costume. If she’s allowed to dress up in it before Halloween, she may have an easier time waiting for the enjoyable as well as the scary activities to begin. She may also feel less anxious if she can mark off the remaining days on a calendar or tear one piece of a paper chain off for each day left before October 31.
Some parents, as part of the pre-Halloween excitement, buy or borrow holiday books. Yet these books often have pictures and ideas that can frighten young children, who believe that what they see in a book is real. If a Halloween story is too frightening, change the words as you read, or try creating your own family Halloween picture books.
The most exciting part of Halloween is usually picking out and wearing a costume. Children like to dress up because they can experiment with fantasy and try out different roles: they can be television characters, princesses, superheroes, scary figures, or grown-up workers. It’s very common for children to change their minds a few times about what they want “to be” for Halloween and argue about costume choices. In most cases, let your child choose her own costume.
Some children are afraid of costumes, especially ones designed to be frightening. Since young children don’t fully understand the difference between reality and make-believe, they’re not convinced that a scary ghost or a monster is only pretend. Even when they know the person under the disguise, they may respond to the costume with fear. When she sees a neighbor with a witch’s mask, she believes the witch is real and is easily scared, in spite of your reassurances. When the mask is off, it’s the neighbor she recognizes. When the mask goes back on, it’s a witch. This is how young children think and reason.
Because of fear, your child may not want to dress up for Halloween. This may make you feel uneasy or embarrassed as you wonder why your child doesn’t like Halloween when other children seem to. In this situation try to remember that all children are different, ones with older siblings may feel more comfortable in costumes, and outgoing children may enjoy dressing up more than reserved ones do. The age of a child makes a big difference, and older children, who are better able to understand that a real person is behind each mask, often enjoy holiday costumes more.