Halloween for many is a time of fun, family and frivolity. Other families like ours, choose not to celebrate it. Whatever your personal conviction, it is important to remember how our little people may be feeling.
Whether you participate or not, Halloween can sometimes be scary for some children. Learning how to parent our children through these times, can be a steep learning curve for us all. As a parent I have found that these moments can provide great opportunities for developing resilience in my children. I may not be able to control the world around them, but I can provide them with tools to help them face it and stand strong within it.
Dr Ginsburg, who is a paediatrician at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has identified 7 C’s for helping develop resilience in our children. You can read more about his findings over at HealthyChildren.org
Applying his findings, here are some strategies for helping frightened children during Halloween.
Competence – this means, creating the expectation that your child will be able to handle scary moments. That you believe they can do it. That have the skills and fortitude within themselves to cope and to make good decisions. We need to be careful in helping them, that our protectiveness doesn’t send the message that they can not cope.
Help your child develop strategies that put them in charge of the situation.
- Look away from scary images.
- Remove yourself from the environment
- Don’t compare siblings e.g don’t say things like be more like your sister, she’s not scared.
- Make sure your actions and words are sending the message that we’ve got this. Our children can catch our fear, if you don’t like Halloween, be careful what you are communicating to your children in your words and actions.
Confidence- The more we practice competence with our children, the more confident they become. They start to take ownership of their ability to cope with a situation.
- Reinforce the times your child has shown bravery or courage- be specific.
- Name the competent behaviours you have witnessed.
- Allow them to set their own boundaries about a situation- if they’ve had enough, maybe it’s time to go home, or find a quiet spot to do something they enjoy and makes them feel safe and in control.
Connection– It is important to spend time with our children so that the connections they feel with us are authentic and secure. It is also important that those connections are also developed with safe and caring extended family members and the community around them.
- Create the kind of environment where they feel safe telling you they feel scared or afraid.
- Allow them to get a sense of their own boundaries and try to honour those boundaries. If they have had enough, respect that.
- Talk about situations openly. Sometimes how someone feels about something can create conflict (especially if other siblings or family members feel differently) don’t be afraid of conflict, talk it through.
- If they want to try trick or treating, taking them to houses of people they love and trust might be a helpful strategy.
Character- If we are going to raise resilient kids, we need to encourage them to form morals and values, that help them know right from wrong. This also helps in their development of empathy and caring for others.
- Encourage them to be aware of how their behaviour might affect others. For example, it is ok to be scared and frightened, it is not ok to take those emotions out on others in hurtful ways. Help your child gradually find loving ways to communicate what they are thinking and feeling.
- Help your child to develop their own world view about Halloween. For instance, are ghosts real or just pretend? Dr Ginsburg speaks of the importance of developing spirituality. Halloween is a great time to ask your children to give some thought about what they believe about the world.
Contribution– We all want to raise kids who make solid contributions to the world, but it is also important to make sure our children know that the world is better for their presence here also. That they have something unique to offer.
- Think of ways our children can give at Halloween rather than take- is there a charity they can help? Can you volunteer somewhere as a family?
- Can they give something to people at the door rather than just take sweets?
- Make the season about who they are, and how they can make a difference. Looking outward with a view of helping and contributing to others and the community, may help deflect some of the scariness, by shifting where their focus is.
Coping- Dealing with fear and anxiety can be a stressful, learning to deal with these emotions, strategically can develop great skills for the rest of life.
- Think about the messages we send. Make sure we are modelling effective strategies when we are scared or anxious.
- Before the event, brainstorm with your child strategies that may help them cope. Do they need a sign for when something is too much for them?
- As a parent, don’t just tell them to get over it or to stop behaving that way. Give them a strategy to help them feel less anxious or scared. Say something like, ‘When I feel this way, I do xyz. Maybe that will help you too?’
- Don’t condemn them when they get it wrong, but instil confidence in their ability to try again.
Control- Instil in your child a sense of control about the decisions they make when it comes to communicating how they feel or how they are behaving. This not only helps them in the moment, but also equips them to try again and own their resilience.
- Halloween isn’t a random life event, it comes and goes every year. Your child can learn to control how they react to the season in ways that are healthy to themselves and others.
Whatever your personal thoughts are about Halloween, it may present a great learning opportunity for us and our children if we approach it thoughtfully and with intent.