While Halloween is a time when being scared by spiders, ghosts and goblins is exciting and fun, some children may find themselves confronted with their biggest fears. For parents, it can be frustrating trying to get your little one to understand that the spider isn’t real, the ghost isn’t going to sneak into your bedroom tonight and that vampires only exist in the movies. If your child is so scared of these Halloween props that their phobia is threatening to ruin your family’s plans, try taking these steps to help curb your son or daughters fears and make this Halloween the best ever!
1.) First and most importantly, don’t scream, yell and tell your child they are being unreasonable. I grew up deathly afraid of spiders after my older sister let me watch Arachnophobia when I was four. While I would scream and cry when I saw one in my room, my mom, ever the advocate of “tough love theory” would always yell at me to “get over it.” She would then go on to lecture me on how there are worse things in life and that I had better toughen up. This is unhelpful, unproductive and something I will surely not do with my future children. What parents need to do is recognize that the fear exists and confront it calmly and slowly.
2.) Parents should try to understand how and when the fear developed. Children are not born knowing whether something is supposed to be scary or fun or cute; this is learned behavior. Did the child watch a scary movie or have a bad experience? If so, talk to them about the experience and have them explain everything in the movie that they think wasn’t real. This is a good way to teach young ones about the separation of reality and pretend.
3.) Don’t expect to change the behavior over-night. For some people, myself included, I remain scared of spiders to this day. While I do not run and cry anymore, they still give me the creeps and will most likely continue to do so until I die. What you should hope to do is to curb the unacceptable behavior through patience and consistency.
4.) If the child’s fear is with something minor, try placing a friendly version of the issue on the table when the whole family is around. Slowly getting your child used to the object of their fear, and realizing that he or she is safe because mom and dad are there is a good way to start. For example, if your daughter is scared of ghosts, hang a friendly ghost in the family room. You can even have your daughter talk to the ghost like he is a member of the family, or the whole family can join in and make-up stories about the ghost’s great adventures. This practice will slowly change the way your daughter sees a ghost and make her less afraid.
5.) Along with the previous recommendation, try art therapy with your child. Have him or her draw their fear while listening to calming music. Once done, praise how good of a job they did, and then tell them that the next time the monster or ghost shows up, they can get the picture and rip it up. Help them “destroy” and defeat the monster by tearing up the drawing and throwing it away.
6.) If your child has a favorite television character or show, try to find a Halloween book about the characters. If your son’s fear is something common, such as with spiders, it is likely that their will be one in the book to refer to. Be sure to point the spider out each time you read the book, and then talk about how friendly he looks and how his presence doesn’t seem to bother (insert the character’s name). If you think about it, how many times has your child liked a certain color or acted a certain way because that’s how Diego or Scooby Doo does it!
7.) Along with that, have your child overhear you and someone else talking about how much (insert the name of someone they admire) likes Halloween and what their favorite things about the holiday are. When my little brother refused to eat his vegetables, my mom would always talk about how much the Buffalo Bill’s football players loved carrots and broccoli. Sure enough, they would eat them to be just like their heroes. Keep in mind this works while they are younger, but be sure to encourage them to think for themselves as they get older and have to confront issues such as smoking and drinking.
8.) Discuss with your child about what behavior is appropriate and what is not when confronting the fear. They don’t have to be statutes, but screaming and crying at the Halloween decorations in the grocery store isn’t acceptable.
9.) Explain that when they see the spider or ghost, they can pick to respond in one of three ways A, B or C, and explain how you will react to each one. Tell the child that he or she can say that they don’t want to look at the spider and then close their eyes. This way you will give them the opportunity to think about their reaction and your response to their behavior. Be sure to reward their good behavior.
10.) In the end though, if your child’s reaction to their fear is extreme, professional help may be the best way to deal with the behavior. While the majority of behaviors are because the child is scared of something new and different looking, if your child truly has a breakdown over the object, you need to get them help in dealing with this. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from someone who is an expert in the field.