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It’s that time of the year again where most kids are busy daydreaming about getting ready for another Halloween. Dressing up, decorating the house, and making things “spooky” is all in the October weeks prior to the “big day”. However, the spirit of Halloween can be both a fun or scary experience depending upon certain precautions that parents need to take. To begin with, costumes can be both amusing and fun but also quite frightening when considering the age of the child.
For the under 6 year-olds, too much exposure to costumes or decorations involving blood, guts, or mangled body parts, as well as too scary a costume, can evoke both extreme anxiety and bad dreams. In some cases, such over-stimulation can cause fears which can last up to a month or longer. Parents of this group of children need to both be careful what they allow their child to wear as well as what they are exposed to during the Halloween ritual. It is recommended that this group begin trick or treating as early as possible and end before the older children get onto the streets wearing graphic costumes and engaging in possible pranks. Obviously, parents need to stay very close to the children in this age group. In addition, when approaching homes with creepy decorations, be sensitive as to whether your child will be too affected by the decor and if so, you may wish to miss that particular house. Haunted houses are also NOT recommended for the under 6 year-olds for the same reasons as mentioned regarding costumes and decorations. Children in this age group are still between fantasy and reality thinking and graphic exposure may feel “too real” to them causing undue anxiety.
For the 6 to 11 year-olds, it is suggested that parents also stay close by as they venture onto the streets due to possible dangers that could occur due to group behaviors and the effects of anonymity that wearing costumes can cause – for example, children are more likely to act out if their identity is masked. In addition, impulsiveness increases in numbers. Therefore, parents are needed to safeguard the grade school aged child.
Regarding the early to middle adolescents, they will most likely try to ditch any parent who attempts to tag along, but it is still suggested that the parents of this age group are still somewhere present in the neighborhood – perhaps in a parked car at the end of the street. Therefore, the adolescent has some independence but also some supervision to help keep them from getting into any trouble. Hopefully, the post 16 year-olds have given up trick or treating, so this should not be an issue for most parents.
As always, parents need to check through the candy and toss away anything that is unwrapped or seems questionable. Furthermore, limits need to be placed on the amount of candy eaten in order to avoid potential negative health effects. Following these guidelines should assist in a fun and happy Halloween.
Safe Halloween Planning Key Points:
Dr. Keith Kanner is a Licensed and Board Certified Clinical Child, Adolescent, and Adult Psychologist and Psychoanalyst. In addition to a full-time private practice in Rancho Santa Fe, California, he is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine at the University of California San Diego where he teaches both human development and also trains medical students how to better understand and relate to their patients. He also serves as the Director of Clinical Counseling for La Jolla Country Day School in La Jolla, California, and is a Clinical Professor at The San Diego Psychoanalytic Society and Institute. Dr. Kanner also sits on the National Board of Directors for Kids Korps USA, which is the largest organization in the country that teaches children and adolescents the importance of volunteering to help the community at large. As a father of three children, he is also a dedicated baseball, football, and soccer coach.