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3 Reasons Halloween Freaks Kids Out and What To Do About It

Photograph by Twenty20

"Mommy, we can't go down that street. It has the creepy skeleton with red eyes."

This is only the beginning. By October 31st, there will be few streets left for us. There's the house directly across the street from school with the makeshift graveyard—bloody arms attempting to climb out of graves. There's the one with the open coffins. There's the one with the spooky sounds and moving parts.

When did Halloween become so very creepy?

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My Halloween memories involve jack-o-lanterns, scarecrows, witches that looked more happy than devious and bumbling monsters that were more silly than scary. It was a night to dress up and collect a pillowcase full of treats— most of which would mysteriously disappear before I thought to look for them.

While I'm not usually one to pine for the good old days, I kind of wish we could turn back the clocks on this one. The super creepy decorations on trend today don't scare me, I don't like to look at them.

Worse, they scare my kids.

As adults, we process these images and hit the like or dislike in our minds, but the images don't really have much of an impact. We have life experience behind us. We know that these things won't come to life and knock on our windows come nightfall. Young children, on the other hand, have active imaginations and fewer life experiences. These images can actually come back to haunt them.

While it might seem like brushing these fears aside with a quick, "Don't worry, that's not real," should do the trick, tread carefully. Kids need time to process their feelings. They are allowed to feel afraid, even if that fear isn't grounded in reality.

Still not convinced? Check out these three big reasons your child is scared (and 4 happy Halloween tips for minimizing damage):

1. Childhood fears are normal

Young children have a growing and vivid imagination, and it's natural for children to develop fears as they grow. For younger children, fears of the dark and fears grounded in their imagination (think ghosts, monsters and vampires) are common. They might also see images in books or on TV (even the innocent preschool shows!) that trigger fears. For older children, real world fears take center stage. Natural disasters, death and being kidnapped are very normal fears for elementary aged children.

If you feared death more than anything, do you think you would want to drive by a house with coffins and skeletons on the front yard for 31 days? Probably not.

There's a reason kids like routines. When routines are in place, they know what to expect. When the routine changes drastically, it can be a little scary.

Happy Halloween tip: Don't force the creepy decorations. Counter the negative images with positive ones in your own home and focus on those instead.

2. Halloween breaks the rules

From the time they can walk, parents give kids a list of safety rules. Don't play in the street. Look before you cross. Don't talk to strangers. Come in before dark. Always stay with an adult. But on Halloween? All rules go out the window.

Instead, parents dress kids in costumes and send them into the street on Halloween, expecting them to go begging for candy from strangers in large groups in the dark with nothing but a flashlight. Wouldn't you be a little bit scared? There's a reason kids like routines. When routines are in place, they know what to expect. When the routine changes drastically, it can be a little scary.

Happy Halloween tip: Prepare them for it. You can make Halloween fun and less scary by talking your kids through it instead of brushing the fears aside.

Most people aren't actually looking to scare little kids on Halloween.

3. Masks play into fears

Most kids experience the fear of the unknown at some point during childhood. If you stop to think about it, many anxious feelings throughout life can be tied to fear of the unknown. Masks play into this fear big time.

It's perfectly normal for kids to hide from adults and for big kids to hide behind masks. Younger ones can't help but wonder what is really under there. Is it someone friendly? Is it someone scary? Can I trust this person? Don't dismiss this fear, it represents the worry center saying, "Stop! We're not sure about this just yet!" It's the same voice that tells you to look both ways or stop chasing a ball when it rolls into the street. Instead of minimizing the fear, empathize with your child.

Happy Halloween tip: Don't be afraid to ask adults to show their faces. Most people aren't actually looking to scare little kids on Halloween. Chances are, they just want to have a little dress-up fun.

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Some day these Halloween fears will be a distant memory. For now, empathize with your kids and focus on the happier parts of Halloween. Sometimes all you need is a handful of candy corn and a visit to one or two trusted neighbors to have a great night.

Happy Halloween tip: Handing out candy is just as much fun as getting it. Many fearful kids feel safe in their own homes and enjoy the holiday just as much from the other side of the door.

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