As any parent of a toddler or a preschooler understands all too well, trying to predict their behavior is a battle you will lose every time. Halloween is particularly tough for parents of young children as there is much around this holiday that can be very difficult for them. Some kids love everything to do with this spooky holiday, especially the candy. Others may have a harder time with the scary masks and creepy decorations they see around their neighborhoods and shops. Young children have a very hard time distinguishing reality from fantasy and combined with their developing imaginations they may suddenly find things that they were fine with a month earlier very scary.
The best way to approach Halloween is to prepare your young child as you would for any new event or big transition. Toddlers and preschoolers are creatures of habit and fear is usually the way they react to unpredictable and unexpected events. So, give them time to warm up to the idea of what Halloween is all about instead of springing it on them and expecting everything to go smoothly.
This Guide is here to help parents with all the emotions young children have around Halloween. Toddlers and preschoolers are just starting to figure out the world around them but then comes Halloween to make everything a little more confusing.
Talk About Fear
Your young toddler or preschooler may find Halloween and all that comes with it to be exciting, but there is inevitability something that might frighten her. All children experience fear and Halloween presents a lot of opportunities to begin talking about what it means to be afraid.
"I grew up in a household where my father would tell my sister and me 'Not to be afraid' or would make fun of us if we said we were afraid of something. He thought he was helping us get over our fears, but instead, the fear would just build-up, which made us even more afraid. To this day I am not able to watch scary movies." -Mary, mother of a toddler
As a parent make sure to take the time and acknowledged your child's emotions and strong feelings. Being afraid is actually a good thing. Children should understand this feeling as it could get them out of danger one day.
Scary decorations are everywhere leading up to Halloween and avoiding them is next to impossible. Instead, embrace the chance to have some fun with your little ones. As children this age have a hard time distinguishing real and make-believe, physically showing them that something is not real is important.
"Leading up to Halloween our neighborhood starts setting out their scariest decorations. This is the perfect opportunity for my kids to go and meet some of the creatures. Recently I introduced my oldest daughter to a large bat hanging on my neighbor’s fence. At first, I could see that she was a little frightened by the decoration. I asked her if she wanted to pet the bat, which I explained was similar to a small flying dog. She agreed and now it is one of her favorite things to do when we go on our walks. Now we cannot pass our neighbor’s house without petting the big bat." -Tracey, mother of a preschooler and a 1-year-old
Allow your child to explore and touch the decorations, making sure they are gentle as some can be fragile. Of course, we are not suggesting you trespass on your neighbor’s yards. Prior permission before trampling over the neighbor's fence is recommended. Most of the time just standing and talking about the display is enough for kids to feel comfortable. Please note that viewing the displays is best done during the day. Save the night walks around the neighborhood for when they are a bit older, otherwise you may find yourself dealing with nightmares.
As for decorating your own home, get your child involved. There are many fun non-scary ways to decorate for the holiday. Pumpkins are a favorite as they are good for Halloween and Thanksgiving. Perfect for making your decorations last throughout the fall holidays. Fake spiderwebs can also be a fun activity for kids. Only you know your child and what they will be comfortable seeing in their house, especially right before they go to bed.
Costumes are similar to decorations, in that some kids will be all into dressing up as their favorite animal, witch, or character and others will completely reject the whole concept. Of course, this is also that age where one day your child will be happy to pick out and wear a costume and the next day will either have changed their mind or refused a costume completely. Keep your expectations for costumes low. This is why it is best to save your money and not buy the most expensive costume your child may be wanting at the moment. This way you will not feel like you must force your child to wear any particular costume on the big day. It is always good to have a few backup ideas for costumes just in case.
"With my own daughter, I struggled to get her to wear her beloved costume until she saw the neighbor kids wear their costumes. After that, I did not have any complaints."-Lindsay, mother of a toddler and a preschooler
Children can get very confused as to why adults would dress up. It is best to just say that some people like to dress up and relate it to how your child dresses up when they play. When it comes to masks and face paint some children can be very frightened even if they know who is under it. This is again the time to discuss fantasy and reality. Take a trip to a store that sells masks and encourage your young child to touch and play with the masks. This can help some children understand that masks are just another way to dress up and play. Face painting is similar. Involve your child in the activity. Don’t wait till Halloween to show your child how face paint works. Set up some time to practice and play. This can get messy, but it can help prepare children emotionally.
Trick or Treating
When it comes to trick or treating with young children keep things low key. Stick to daylight hours as everything can look scarier when it is dark. Toddlers can tire out easily from all the excitement. Limit your journey to only a few houses. This will also mean you have less candy to worry about. Be sure to go with an older child or another adult as some ill-intentioned teenagers like to scare young children. This extra person can help dissuade these pranksters. Seek out child-friendly haunted houses and other less scary homes. This is a fun way to introduce young children to the idea of haunted houses in an approachable way.
"A family in my neighborhood sets up a Wizard of Oz scene that is always the kids favorite. The father speaks to the kids as the Wizard of OZ behind a curtain, but for small children, he will let them talk into the microphone so that they are not scared." Donna, mother of a preschooler and an older child
If you choose to have your child help hand out candy, be aware that the idea of people dressed in scary costumes coming to their house can be very unnerving for a young child who views his or her home as a very safe place. If you can see who is approaching your home and it is young kids or a friendly face, go ahead and let your child have fun handing out candy, but save the scary teenagers for yourself.
Figuring out how to handle all the candy can cause any parent anxiety.
"For my children, I like to teach patience and self-soothing. They can pick out a few of their favorite pieces of candy and then for a week they can have one piece of candy each day. We donate the rest of the candy to a local dentist."-Anna, mother of a preschooler and an older child
Some parents like to introduce their children to the switch witch. Not to be confused with how Marge Simpson implements this by taking the candy and placing toothbrushes in the trick or treater's bags. The plan is simple, Parents tell their children that there is a friendly witch who just loves candy. She loves it so much that when kids give her their halloween candy she will leave a toy or other gift in its place. Parents can judge for themselves how big this switch should be. A simple book or stickers could do the trick or a larger toy might be a better incentive. Only you know how determined your child is to hold on to their candy.
Donating candy is a great way to teach charity and get the candy out of the house. Many pediatric dentist offices accept donated candy. Some places will send the candy to the troops overseas.
Who doesn’t love a good Halloween party? When it comes to small children best to stick to a non-spooky theme.
"A group of our friends got together and decided to start a walkabout Halloween dinner. Each family hosts a different dish. We all gather at one house for appetizers, then the next house for the main course and dessert at another. Sometimes we even add an after dinner treat at another house. The kids get to feel like they are trick or treating, but I have the peace of mind that they are safe and with family and friends. They love it!" -Alexis, mother of three young kids
No party should be without fun toddler and preschool Halloween themed activities
- Capture the ghost group fun: Gather all the children and adults together and give one person a white cloth made to look like a ghost or Halloween themed napkin. This is best done in an open space where everyone can run around freely. Tell the child with the ghost to run around and have the other kids chase them and try to grab the ghost. This is a Halloween themed capture the flag game.
- Bobbing for apples: To make this game toddler safe swap mouths for kitchen utensils and other fun things like shovels. All you need is a tub of water, apples, the utensils to fish the apples out with and a few kids.
- Painting pumpkins: Young children have a hard time carving pumpkins as most of the work has to be done by an adult. This is why painting pumpkins is a better activity for toddlers and preschoolers. This is sure to get messy. If you want something that won't get all over their costumes, try stickers instead. What kid doesn't like some googly eye stickers?
- Monster Freeze: Gather the kids around a speaker. Find a kid-friendly Halloween playlist and start playing the music. Have everyone dance and pretend to be their scariest monster or animal. When the music stops everyone must freeze.
No list is complete without a few great Halloween book suggestions. Your local library will most likely have a large selection. We have listed some of our favorites here.
Ten Timid Ghosts: Great way to practice counting.
The Spooky Smells of Halloween: A scented storybook
Five Little Pumpkins: Cute rhyming verse from the nursery rhyme.
Even Monsters Need A Haircut: For older preschoolers. About hard work.
Spooky Pookie: Who doesn't love Sandra Boynton books.
Go Away Big Green Monster--Great book about controlling fears.