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Nurturing Preschool Kids Through a Scary Halloween

by Morrisa Drobnick, LCSW

How fast children mature emotionally varies, both within an individual child and between children. Children’s emotional development can regress at certain points, as well as progress. Kids may handle an emotion such as fear with some control one moment, then the next day may exhibit no control over the same fear. One minute preschoolers may be thrilled with their choice of Halloween costume; the next minute refuse to wear it.

Halloween to preschoolers means fun, candy, and pretend. Remember that 3, 4, and 5 year olds do not have a true understanding of fantasy and reality. Confusion and magical thinking is normal for their development. Children can express fear around this holiday to indicate that they need help with sorting things out. When children express fearfulness, a parent can help best by being sensitive and supportive.

Accept children’s fears. Do not over react. A strong reaction could cause your child’s fears to increase. Be “matter of fact”: “I know the noise of the garbage truck scares you but, it will not hurt you. They are needed to collect the town trash.”

Understand why your child is fearful. Fears might help him control a situation, or withdraw, and not participate. Any new experience can be frightening to a young child, even dressing up to collect candy.

Preschool children usually have an idea what they want to dress up like on Halloween. Let them make the decision. If you do not you could have a power struggle on your hands the day of the costume parade. Power figures or superheroes, both female and male, are common choices for young children. They give them a sense of control. Super heroes allow children to be aggressive in an acceptable way.