Halloween When Your Kid Hates Being Scared

Our kids are big fans of Halloween. They have fun dressing up, they love the candy (of course), and they like decorating the house with pumpkins, bats, black cats, and silly monsters. They enjoy the innocent, fun version of Halloween.

However, the gore and horror version of Halloween is another story.

When our kids were younger, the neighbors across our cul-de-sac totally did up their yard for Halloween. They made creepy, ghoulish, zombie-like people out of clothing and scary masks, all stuffed with straw. The kids didn’t like it, but we’d always just explain that it was pretend, and that some people think it’s fun to make things look really scary for Halloween, and to just not look at it if it really freaked them out.

Then came trick-or-treating.

My husband took our 6-year-old out—so excited in her cute little witch costume—while I stayed home with our 2-year-old. They’d only been gone a few minutes, when I heard screaming. Not just a little shriek, but blood-curdling, non-stop, terror-filled SCREAMING. I looked out the window to see our daughter racing back toward the house as fast as her little witch legs could carry her and my husband giving a friendly wave to the neighbor. What the heck just happened?

It turns out that one of the teenage boys who lives at that house had dressed up and posed as one of those ghoulish creatures in the yard. When trick-or-treaters came by, he’d suddenly jump out of formation to scare them.

Now, personally, I think that’s pretty funny. And some kids would, too. But not our 6-year-old with the active imagination. The teen’s mom heard the screaming and came out to lecture him on appropriate age groups to startle. The boy clearly didn’t expect that strong of a reaction and felt terrible about it. He came over and apologized profusely. Our daughter calmed down and continued on with the trick-or-treating, so it all turned out fine in the end.

But it was a good reminder that for some kids, scary isn’t fun. Scary is scary. Even if you explain that none of it’s real, even if you talk about how they make the costumes and the artistry that goes into it, even if you try to give them tools for dealing with fear, some kids just don’t like to be frightened. For some kids, the fear in Halloween creepiness is co-mingled with fun and excitement and thrill. But for some kids, it’s just fear.

I’m not exactly sure why that is. I don’t think it’s a matter of parenting. I know a family where one daughter is terrified of anything scary and gory, while the other daughter just revels in the stuff. I don’t know if it has to do with how kids process imaginary things, or if it’s just personality, but in my experience it’s mostly an innate response.

And it’s not only kids who aren’t fans of Halloween horror. I can handle the creepy, gory stuff, but I don’t particularly like it. I remember watching the Nightmare on Elm street and Friday the 13th movies when I was younger, and they were sort of intriguing in a weird way, but as an adult, I’ve happily chosen to avoid horror movies. I’ve learned that I really don’t like feeling disturbed in that way. My threshold is obviously a lot higher than a young child’s, but I get where the kids are coming from.

So a humble request to parents: If you have older kids who get into the gore and horror, maybe you could remind them that some kids are precariously teetering on the line between fun and genuine fear on Halloween. Let them dress as ghoulish they wish, but remind them to be cognizant of how they come across, especially to young children. Maybe suggest they do a silly dance and wave in their scary costume, or take of their mask briefly and smile if a child seems scared. Sometimes just breaking the illusion for a moment is enough.

Fear and fun really are mutually exclusive for some kids. Some creepiness is to be expected, but as long as there are young kids around, perhaps we can try to keep Halloween more PG than PG-13.

Halloween When Your Kid Hates Being Scared

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Annie writes about life, motherhood, world issues, beautiful places, and anything else that tickles her brain. On good days, she enjoys juggling life with her husband and homeschooling her children. On bad days, she binges on chocolate chips and dreams of traveling the world alone.

Comments 2

  1. My 10 year old daughter is completely terrified of Halloween and always has been. She will not go anywhere near a Halloween aisle in a grocery store (which is usually just candy!). We tried to go to her elementary school Halloween party and we didn’t even get in the door. Most of the costumes were very tame but she caught a glimpse of a headless horseman and turned around and walked home. She does not want to trick or treat this year and starts crying if I even talk about it. I’m so sad that what I always thought was the best funnest holiday ever is completely terrifying to her. I thought maybe she would grow out of it with time, but it’s actually gotten worse. I almost feel like she needs therapy by how scared of being scared she is. I want to ease her anxiety and we’ve had so many talks about how it’s all fake but it doesn’t even matter to her. She gets paralyzed just seeing a mask hanging on a shelf around Halloween time. Help! Trick or treating is supposed to be fun! How can I make it fun for her?

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