What We’re Really Giving Our Children on Halloween

MINNEAPOLIS (PRNewswire) – Each Halloween ghouls and goblins trick-or-treat from door-to-door. Amid the costumes and candy, however, there’s more going on than may initially meet the eye. Halloween should be carefully considered and approached cautiously by parents with young children. The evening’s “fun” may actually mask a source of great anxiety, fear and even terror for children.

“The conflict of emotions surrounding a desire for candy, the competition that often accompanies trick-or-treating and anxiety over confronting strange adults in new and different neighborhoods can easily result in an intense and terrifying experience for young children,” said Dr. Skye Payne, professor of psychology at Argosy University/Twin Cities. “Combined with the appearance of strange, frightening creatures and the potential for ‘play’ threats by older children, Halloween can be a nightmare for some.”

Year round, parents tell their children never to talk to strangers. On this night, while that admonishment may appear to be lifted, children often sense parents’ anxiety about the dangers of trick-or-treating. “Not only is the expectation that they will talk to strangers, but they will also take candy from them,” said Payne. “All the while, they can read their parents’ concerns about ‘razor blades in the candy.’ Urban legend or not, some local police stations even offer to x-ray candy, a very real experience.”

They may also become frightened by the distortion of their own or their family members’ appearance and typical behaviors. Said Payne, “Costumes, masks and makeup transform brothers, sisters or parents into monsters — and everyone appears to encourage the change. Family hugs and laughter may be temporarily replaced by the growl of a werewolf or the cackle of a witch. This can be overstimulating at best and a pretty alarming — even frightening — experience at worst.”

But family-oriented fun lurks just below the traditional Halloween experience — without the night wandering of “trick-or-treat.” Payne suggests that children and their parents gather at familiar and safe community-based locations such as schools or recreation centers for an evening of dressing up in costumes and playing games. Actively participating in such family-oriented Halloween activities can be an opportunity to talk with children about the sights and sounds that accompany the evening. It’s a chance to dress up together while explaining the meaning and the reason for the chosen costumes. These activities can reinforce the values and security that parents represent throughout the rest of the year.

So as Halloween approaches, Payne encourages parents to investigate community-oriented activities in your neighborhood.

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