Last week we looked at the area of social anxiety as Halloween is upon us I thought these thoughts would be timely and next week look at the treatments for Social Anxiety.
I like this time of year. Having two boys 5 and 3 years there is great fun and joy around dressing up and looking forward to doing ‘trick or treat’, for me it was ‘penny for the pooka!’. Even with my boys I can see there is a thin line between something being fun and something being very scary.
For many children existing fears are magnified during Halloween such as a fear of spiders, fear of the dark, fear of strangers, fear of large crowds – are often magnified around and on Halloween night.
Halloween objects, items and symbols often cause Halloween fears in children. Children may be afraid of Halloween masks. Bloody, gory, creepy costumes commonly scare children of all ages, particularly if they have had a bad experience in the past – such as a monster jumping out from behind a tree as they approach the door.
Most children enjoy carving pumpkins – scooping out the insides, decorating a silly face, lighting it up with a candle. Other children are terrified by the unnatural, glowing, pumpkin-head faces. They may be excited to carve their own, but seeing a face all lit up at night may have the opposite effect.
Children’s fears around Halloween vary depending on the child and the child’s individual past experiences. Although they may seem irrational and unjustified to adults, the fears are very real to the child, and should not be dismissed as immaturity or silliness.
1. Find the right balance. Don’t force or pressure your child to do something they are fearful of because it may backfire on everyone and make things worse. Be mindful of finding that middle ground, that place of gentle encouragement somewhere between being too pushy or giving in by avoiding the issue.
2. Take baby steps. If you want your child to get over her fear of masks, gradually expose her to the concept. Begin by inviting her to draw and make her own mask. Next step - cut it out and wear it when ready. Next step -Take pictures of her with it on and off and then look at them together. Next - Look at a book of different masks people have made. Next - Highlight the fact that she is able to put her mask on and take it off as she wishes. Then let her know she can make that same request of others. Be patient and don’t rush, even though it may take weeks or months to accomplish the steps.
3. Engage neighbours & families. Prepare them in advance so trick or treat is fun rather than scary.
4. Have your own party. If you can’t be sure what will happen at a party your child is invited to - have your own. Plan a party with your child around items that feel safe to them, such as pumpkins.
5. Role-play and practice. Have a Halloween dress rehearsal that will allow your child to have a positive experience with this annual ritual. Make it their own by encouraging dress up, creating arts and crafts for decorations, identifying treats to hand out and what you have to do to get them. This is called complimentary play and is a great way to help your child become less sensitive to the actual event.
6. Give your child control. It is human nature to feel safer when we think we have control over a situation. In addition to the two ideas directly above, provide ample opportunity for your child to have choices. Just remember to limit them to two, always making one an option you know they will accept and feel safe with. Leaving choices open ended will only work to create another dilemma.