The countdown to Halloween has officially begun! In less than two weeks, ghosts, witches, zombies, princesses and superheroes will be ringing our doorbells and screaming "trick or treat!" With piles of candy, cool costumes and parental permission to have lots of sugar, it's no wonder that Halloween is one of children's favorite holidays.
But there is a darker side to the spooky holiday. In 2010, the popular NBC drama "Parenthood" featured a Halloween episode "Orange Alert" that has become a classic because in it everyone must overcome fear and the highlight is how the autistic character Max tackles his fear of the holiday.
In my work with families and children, I've seen kids (young and not so young) with anxiety and worry start to ramp up as soon as the October calendar appears. These children are thinking about real monsters, imaginary monsters and yes, The Worry Monster. Worrying can be about anything: about Halloween itself, costumes, confusing social skills -- will I be invited with my friends? -- to doorbells ringing without warning and over-the-top spooky neighborhoods. Well, it's a recipe for a cauldron full of everything icky.
Halloween is fantastic for most children and tweens and teens. But for the special needs child, overanxious child or quirky kids, it can bring out old and new fears. Anxiety, worry and fear are the companions of things that go bump in the night. Think about it; Halloween is built around the fear factor and this holiday is unpredictable, creepy and most of all, can be SCARY.
Fortunately, I have spent decades helping children of all ages (and parents too) conquer The Worry Monster and my time-tested advice works for all kinds of monsters regardless of size, shape or season.
Here are ways to banish the Halloween Worry Monsters:
1. Host a Halloween Party: Avoid complicated trick or treating for your socially anxious child. Have a special, small party at your home that you can control and scale down the massive neighborhood spectacle.
2. Write a Social Story: Anxious tweens and teens can benefit from an easy-to-understand social story that maps out the holiday and allows for pre-planning.
3. Create a Time-based Schedule: With your child, plot out the evening starting with getting dressed up and ending with counting candy at the kitchen table. Schedule to the rescue!
4. The Buddy System: Encourage your children to invite a favorite friend to join the trick or treating. By being proactive, the social anxiety can be avoided.
5. Seek out The Sweet, not The Scary: For the younger set, avoid the houses where startling décor and spooky music will give your children nightmares. Skip the houses that are Fear Factories and stick to the sweeter sites.
Halloween is a wild holiday, but as a parent, you can control many elements of the night and successfully make it a fun holiday for your family instead of a nightmare (but only if you remind your children to brush and floss before bed!).