News & Views
from   The Parenting Center at Abington

   With Halloween quickly approaching, our thoughts turn toward costumes, trick or treating, and other holiday related activities. For some children, however, Halloween becomes more than just an opportunity to dress up and get candy. Something deeper may be going on. Often, unbeknownst to the parent, the holiday can stir up some unexpected behaviors or reaction, some of which may be related to fears. We often think of fears mostly occurring with younger children but they actually can exist to some degree within children of all ages and even adults. And, the ways in which children express those fears can vary just as widely.
   In a recent conversation with friends, we started talking about this very issue. We found that each of our school-aged children at some point had exhibited some unexpected behaviors around Halloween. For instance, one child would not cover his face with any mask. Another boy showed an extreme obsession with all of those gory Halloween masks, purchased the grossest one he could find but when Halloween night came, he would not put it on. When asked why, he just answered, "Because I don't want to!" One child while in costume, seemed to take on the fierce personality of the character he was depicting.
   The stories go on but one thing struck us as we listened to each other: on some level our children were possibly dealing with some fears that maybe because of their age, were not being expressed in ways that would typify a fearful child. In a sense, Halloween and all of the magical, mysterious and fanciful costumes, stories and traditions that go along with it may provide a way for our children to work on conquering some of their fears.
   Fear is a very real emotion for children. At any age, a child's fears may surface and just when we think they are finally gone they can resurface. It can be helpful to know that in addition to monsters, strangers and the dark, some typical fears of school-aged children are burglars, fires, heights, social rejection, social popularity, being criticized, failing, not being liked, and being alone. An excellent source for identifying and understanding your child's fears is When Your Child is Afraid by Dr. Robert Schachter and Carole Spearin McCauley.
   Schachter and McCauley state that "knowing about your child's fears and learning what you can do to help reassure a frightened youngster is one of the most valuable skills a parent can have." We need to learn to respect our child's fears even if they appear petty or insignificant to us because for him, they are very real. Some other things we can do include empathizing with the child, reassuring him, and not paying undue attention to the fear. Try not to embarrass the child by ridiculing his feelings. As your child grows, learn to empower him with knowledge of reality and constructive skills for dealing with frightening situations. Also, as he gets older, encourage him to discover, perhaps through problem exploration, his own solutions for managing or conquering fear.
   When it comes to getting our children excited about and ready for Halloween, knowing our unique children and the possible fears they may have can help to prepare us for any surprising or unexpected behaviors. Keep in mind that not all of our children's behaviors will fall neatly into any one category. Along with having possible fears, our children also have their own personalities and temperaments. Learning to understand the unique make-up of your child can help you to establish more realistic expectations and possibly ease any anxieties, frustrations, or pressures you may experience during the holiday: Like the time you spent hours making a costume only to have your (temperamentally sensitive) child not wear it because it was too itchy or didn't feel right. Or the time all of the other children had their costumes on for the school parade while your (temperamentally slow-to-warm) child paraded in his street clothes. Or the time when your child didn't want to trick-or-treat and preferred to stay home instead. Or the time when... well, you get the picture.
   Finally, one of the most important things you can do is to find a way for you and your child to enjoy the holiday in your own special way, not based on what anyone else may be doing or expecting of you, but based on what's comfortable for you and your family.
   Have a happy, stress-free, and un-frightening Halloween!!

By: Deanna Bosley, Certified Parenting Educator
October 1998
Vol. 1/ No. 2
The Parenting Center at Abington
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