Halloween FearsHelping little ones cope with fear factor on Halloween.
By: Kristen Jordan Shamus, Detroit Free Press, McClatchy-Tribune
As the ghosts, goblins, scarecrows and vampires prepare to make their way to front porches and yards on Halloween, fear creeps into my little girl's mind.
She's terrified of the macabre, which unfortunately for us, is everywhere this time of year.
At Target the other day, a life-size witch with glowing eyes and a broomstick nearly sent the poor child into fits.
Julia held onto my pant leg and hid her eyes behind my jacket. In a moment of bravery she dashed out from behind me, and touched the animated doll's cape.
She was behind my leg again in a flash, but proud of herself for breaking away even if only for a moment to face her fear.
"I know it's not real, Momma," she said, "but it's still scary. Why do they make scary things like that?"
That's a tough one to answer. Why do people enjoy scaring the snot out of themselves at haunted houses and hayrides and by watching freaky movies?
Dr. Jessica Purtan Harrell, a clinical psychologist in Farmington Hills, Mich., who specializes in the treatment of anxiety disorders, says it's likely that the same rush of adrenaline some people feel on roller coasters also kicks in when they are frightened by spooky things.
But for preschoolers like my daughter, there's little fun in it. "Part of that is because of where they're at developmentally," Harrell says; preschoolers can't grasp the difference between fantasy and reality.
Harrell offers some advice. The key, she says, is to gradually expose children to the things that frighten them, talk about it and give them a way to see the things differently.
She suggests going online and printing out pictures of what is scary to the child. Start with images that are more cartoon-like and benign and have the child color that picture, talk about what the witch or monster is doing, possibly give it a name or make up a story about it.
"If you can come up with a story ... it takes the power out of the fear," Harrell says. Next time, pick a slightly more frightening picture and do the same thing again and again until the child feels control over the fear.
"It's very real to them," Harrell says. "Our ... instinct is to protect and keep them away from the things they fear. But when it comes to the things that aren't real threats, if you dose it appropriately a little bit at a time, it becomes more manageable," she says.
For kids who are afraid to go trick-or-treating, Harrell suggests calling a few neighbors before Halloween and trying a practice night so the child will know what to expect. That can remove the fear of the unknown.
"It's really important to know how to pick your battles," Harrell says. "If you know your child is really afraid of it, you need to know when to let go."