When four-year-old Ben Tuson dressed up in his super spooky skeleton costume on Halloween and headed out trick-or-treating with his parents and baby sister, he giggled over how “creepy” it was to be out after dark. His first door-to-door encounter went just fine—his parents had explained that Halloween is about make-believe and all the ghouls are really other kids in costume. But then something happened. “Our neighbour told Ben that he chased a witch out of his backyard,” recalls Ben’s mom, Penny Tuson, of Victoria.
Suddenly Halloween wasn’t fun anymore. Ben wanted to go home. Tuson says her confident little boy became fearful overnight. “I wondered if he would ever sleep in his own bed again.”
A Sometimes-Scary Holiday
For preschoolers doing their best to make sense of the world, Halloween can be difficult to understand. “Anything that is novel at this age has the potential to be frightening,” explains Dr. Lynn Miller, an assistant professor with the Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology and Special Education at the University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Education. For Heather Cook of Calgary, her five-year-old son Michael’s fears came as a surprise. “He had never been afraid before and suddenly it was all about monsters.” Michael’s worries arose after stumbling across a plastic but very real-looking severed leg last Halloween. “He couldn’t understand why a neighbour would do something that scary, on purpose,” recounts Cook.
Helping Kids Face Their Fears
Dr. John Walker, a clinical psychologist in the Anxiety Disorders Program at St. Boniface General Hospital in Winnipeg, says the key to resolving preschool anxiety is to be patient and offer plenty of reassurance.
The first step in helping an anxious child is to listen to his story. “Kids use repetition to sort an incident out,” Dr. Walker says. But for Michael, his mom says repeating the story seemed to make things worse. “I heard that severed leg story, several times a day, for weeks. And his anxiety kept building.”
“Listening is just the beginning. The next step is facing the fear,” explains Dr. Walker, adding it’s important to let the child take the lead. For Michael, this meant moving on from telling the story to reading about all things monster-related. For Ben, it meant he needed to check his closet for hiddden beasts each night.
When to Seek Help
Dr. Walker says that occasionally a child’s anxiety won’t resolve itself. “If a parent has listened to the child and practiced facing the fear but the child’s anxiety begins interfering with activities, it may be time to get professional support.” Studies show that approximately five to seven per cent of preschool children will have significant problems with anxiety. Treatment usually takes the form of teaching the parents techniques to help their child.
While both Ben and Michael got over their fear of Halloween monsters, it took time and patience. Tuson says Ben has now decided that Halloween should be fun and not spooky. “He’s dressing up as a panda this year. He doesn’t want to scare his little sister.”
Looking for some great non-scary Halloween costumes? Check out these 9 animal-themed costumes you can make at home.