by Sarah Michaelis Thursday October 30, 2014

Today is Halloween and neighbourhoods are littered with all things scary.

Many of us enjoy the ghouls, goblins and ghosts, but for young children these images can be very scary, especially if they don't yet know the difference between what is real and what is imaginary.

To help, our partners at Infant Mental Health Promotion at Toronto's SickKids Hospital offer these tips:

Your Baby/Toddler (Birth to 36 months):

The sights, smells and sounds that come with the Halloween spirit are fun and exciting, but remember, for your baby this is a total change in his routine with you and changes, not to mention all the decorations, costumes and visitors, can be frightening. Whether you are going out or staying in, be mindful of your child’s reactions to his surroundings and give him the comfort he needs so that Halloween remains a good memory, and not a ghoulish one.

  • Before Halloween, read Halloween inspired books. Make sure to point to pictures and label the characters. This is something you can do no matter what book you share or read with your child.  In this case you may want to pay extra attention to the characters that you know your child will see during the Halloween season. When you prepare your child for what’s coming, she knows that she can still trust you and turn to you when she is distressed. You might also want to create new stories together with your child.
  • When visitors come to the door, you may want to let your infant or toddler to observe the first few visitors from a few feet away or from the lap of a familiar caregiver/family member. By letting the first several visitors come to the door and not rushing to let your child help give out candy, he learns that he is still safe and that the visitors in costume are harmless.
  • Look for signs that your child is scared, uncomfortable or distressed by the event. Respect your child’s feelings about Halloween, and focus on making her feel safe and secure again. This may mean that you turn off the scary music, put away some decorations, and spend some quiet time in a non-Halloween decorated area, where you can reassure her that everything is alright.
Your Preschooler (36 months to 48 months):

Preschoolers may have a better understanding of Halloween from previous years with you, and they may even be introducing Halloween themes while in school or child care, but that does not mean that this is the holiday for your child. If Halloween is a holiday that you and your family do not participate in, then the preparations at school might need some more clarification from you.

  • Halloween, a holiday filled with costumes and candy, may be a new event for you.  If it is something you want your child to be a part of ask neighbors, your child’s teachers or friends about the event and find out what it is about so you can share this with your child to avoid her from being overwhelmed by the festivities that often occur at child care or school. 
  • If you do not participate in Halloween by choice, you may want to create your own event for you and your family. Explain to your child, in a way that he can understand, why Halloween is not something you participate in.  Then, as a family perhaps, consider an alternate event or celebration you can do together.  You should also let your child’s teacher know your views about Halloween so that she can offer some choices to your child during the course of the day.
  • Not everyone lives in an area where trick or treating is possible. Maybe you live in a rural area, or perhaps there are not as many young children living in your area, so your street does not participate in Halloween. Prepare a fun scavenger hunt for your child that requires small clues and finding hidden treasures around the house; these treasures don’t have to be candy, but they can be trinkets from the dollar store, or other small items that mean something to your child other than the traditional candy.
  • No child likes to see his hard work go to waste, so when it come times to sort the candy remove anything that may seem unsafe from the collection. Be sure to explain why certain candy needs to be removed (unwrapped candy, candy containing certain ingredients, candy with ingredients your child is allergic to etc...) and have him help you to soften the loss of these treats. Make sorting candy a fun game that you both participate in.
Want more?

If your child likes being scared, our TVOParents Book Club recommends some spooky books: