Halloween: Scary Fun or Just Plain Scary?
Paula Statman, M.S.S.W.
I am going to dispel some myths and misinformation that may be fueling your fears and making your job harder especially around Halloween, when your kids want to have some good, scary fun.
Myths, Memories, and Realities
You aren’t alone if you believe that the world is more dangerous today than when you were a child. But, the fact is many of the problems we have now we had thirty years ago. The biggest difference is that today we get bombarded with bad news and it takes a cumulative toll on our peace of mind. This constant barrage of upsetting news causes us to develop an increasingly vulnerable outlook about our ability to keep our kids safe.
Also, you may be grieving over the fact that your children will not have the same “carefree” childhood you had. As children, many of us felt securely anchored in our community and in our neighborhoods. We felt free to cut through backyards, stay out until dark, and horror of horrors, accept homemade unwrapped treats on Halloween!
Today we raise our children with more restrictions, structure and supervision than we grew up with. We enroll our children in supervised after-school activities. We impose strict curfews, forbid them from playing outside after dark and require them to check in regularly when they are off with friends. Childhoods now — urban, suburban or rural — are neither the childhoods we had, nor the childhoods we would have invented for our children.
Prepare Don’t Scare Your Kids
If you were raised on warnings and scare tactics, you may believe the false wisdom that it’s important to “scare some sense” in to your kids. The opposite is true. Fear disables kids. It prevents them from thinking on their feet, from judging a situation accurately and from acting in self-protectively. You empower children by teaching them exactly what to do, not by warning them about what could happen if they disobey you or use poor judgment.
Recognize the difference between what children need to learn and what you think you need to tell them. Leave your fears, bad experiences, and our old wounds out of the lesson. Share those with a supportive adult.
There are an endless number of things you can worry about today. But, you shouldn’t teach your kids what you are worried about. The amount of time they will actually listen to you is too short for you to fill it with your fears.
Protecting Kids Today
Protecting our children today means being more active in helping kids learn how to gauge what's safe. But it doesn’t mean hovering over them. We protect them by using age appropriate expectations and by taking into account their strengths and their vulnerabilities. We also protect them by setting limits, supervising them, and making sure they can successfully deal with potential problems before we say “yes.”
To keep your children safe on Halloween:
- Protect them from situations beyond their abilities. For example, young children shouldn’t be expected to navigate the streets without an adult supervising them. Older siblings are not a good substitute for a parent on Halloween. Most prefer to be with their friends that night and should be allowed to do that if they can behave responsibly.
- Prepare them for situations before they are expected to deal with them. Discuss Halloween safety tips with all of your children, no matter what age they are. Emphasize tips that are especially important in your neighborhood or that were a challenge last year. Get your kids’ agreement that they will follow the safety rules.
- Observe and talk about and situations you encounter. If you are supervising your children on Halloween night, think of it as a practice session and use the many teachable moments that come up. For example, point out safe and unsafe behavior when you see it, whether it is kids crossing the street or navigating the sidewalks in costumes that limit their vision. Explain that only on Halloween night can children accept candy from people they don’t know. The possibilities are endless and you can point out safety behavior without putting a damper on your kids’ fun.
So, how do you face your fears on Halloween and every other day of the year? By walking that thin and important line between exposing children to life's possibilities and protecting them from life's burdens. Yes, you need to see your neighborhoods and streets for what they are and prepare your children to navigate them safely. But, don’t scare your kids about Halloween. Leave that to the ghosts and goblins they meet along their trick-or-treat route.
© 2008 Paula Statman KidWISE Institute, Inc. Oakland, California