By Emily Williams | University Communications
DENVER – At its best, Halloween provides children and families with an adventurous evening of treats and make-believe. For many, however, the thrill of donning a costume and going trick-or-treating can be overshadowed by sites of realistic depictions of excessive violence and gore.
For young children who have not yet developed an understanding of the difference between pretend and reality, children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, and children who have or have had anxiety disorders (including Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), Halloween night can seem more like a nightmare.
Clinical Child Psychologist Dr. Kevin Everhart, Ph.D. of the University of Colorado Denver Psychology Clinic offers these tips for a fun and fearless Halloween:
- Provide options – Children may not always be able to tell you they are afraid. They may feel embarrassed of their anxiety, or be unaware of the source of their dread. Give them the option to stay home, go to a movie, or do something other than trick-or-treat. They may take you up on your offer.
- Do some reconnaissance – Trick-or-treat only at the homes of families that you are familiar with and with whom your child will feel safe.
- Host a Halloween party and send along costume guidelines that prohibit violence, fear and gore.
Parents who decide to take children trick-or-treating can minimize potential anxiety with the following tips:
- Give your child a flashlight to carry -Think of it as a portable nightlight; wielding a beam of light can give children a sense of mastery and control.
- Make a game of rating the costumes you encounter along the way – Select categories such as, “Fun Scary,” “Too Scary,” “Most Creative,” and “No Comment.” Giving your child a way to think and talk about costumes in this way will help them gain mastery over fear and provide a cognitive frame for their experiences.
- Help your child choose a costume for a superhero or other powerful being – You can playfully coax them to “act-as-if” they are Batman or Wonder Woman, and role play confidence.
- Have a back-up plan and be ready and willing to end trick-or-treating early and move on to another fun activity.