Scary costumes, ghoulish decorations, and strangers ringing doorbells can be monster-size challenges for kids who can't yet fully distinguish reality from fantasy, says Vicki Panaccione, Ph.D., of the Better Parenting Institute, in Melbourne, FL. How to ease three common anxieties:
If He's Afraid to Wear a Costume?
Encourage non-scary outfits like fairies and superheroes for now. Also, face paint and/or wigs are better than masks, which can freak out toddlers if they see themselves in a mirror. Then play dress-up before Halloween. Don't worry about the suit getting a few stains; it's more important to let your child try it on and maybe practice getting in and out of it. That way, he can see he has the "power" to play make-believe, says Panaccione, then quit when he's ready.
If She's Scared of Halloween Decorations?
Talk about how they're part of the holiday, just like colored eggs and bunnies at Easter, and that none of it is real. Helping her touch, swat (gently!), or squeeze the items might help get that idea across, too. "Tell your child that the scary stuff is part of this holiday because some older kids like it. And reassure her that it will all be put away once the day is over," suggests Panaccione. If spooky store displays overwhelm her, you may want to try shopping alone for now.
If He's Scared of Trick-or-Treating?
Plan to go to just a handful of homes—preferably neighbors you know. And go early, while there's still some daylight. If your child is shy or scared, you can do the doorbell-ringing and even say "Trick or treat!" for him. He'll follow suit when and if he's ready. But if he suddenly begs to go home, just follow his cue. He's telling you he's not quite ready this year. Don't worry: The lure of candy eventually wins out!