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Anxiety

What to Do When Your Child Is Afraid of Halloween and Costumes

Five tips from psychologists.

Key points

  • Children are commonly afraid of Halloween and costumes.
  • There are ways you can help them overcome their fears.
  • Tips include “practicing” Halloween and following your child’s lead.

Trick or treat! For kids who have anxiety, there are a lot of tricks and not many treats. If your child is afraid of Halloween, spooky decorations, or vampire costumes, then you are not alone. The lifetime prevalence of specific phobias among children and adolescents is estimated as much as 5%1. While not much is known about the prevalence of specific phobias among costumed characters, some children suffer from “maskaphobia,” a phobia of those in masks and costumes.

Beth Teutschmann/Unsplash
Source: Beth Teutschmann/Unsplash

If your child runs away or screams at the thought of seeing others in costumes at Disneyland, on TV, or during past Halloween events, then your child may struggle during Halloween this year. Here are five tips from expert psychologists on how to combat the “Halloween scaries” and ensure your family enjoys the holiday this year:

1. Remain mindful of your child’s age and developmental level. Fear of masks and costumed characters is quite common in preschool children. Most children “age out” of this fear and it fades away by the primary school years.

2. Find out your child’s goals. Is it important for them to trick-or-treat or attend the class Halloween party? Do they think they are missing out by not trick-or-treating with their friends? If they are not interested and are feeling worried, then likely it’s worth it to try again next year. However, many youth look forward to the prospect of dressing up at school, hanging out with their friends, and eating candy—but the idea of costumes and dressing up is the barrier. Once you identify your child’s goals, then you can gently challenge them to overcome their fears.

3. Try to find out the specific worry content. Ask your child, “What goes through your mind when you see___?” or “What pops into your head that scares you when you see___?” Some kids may be unsettled that an animated figure like Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, or a witch may have come to life. Others might become worried that they can’t tell how the individual behind the mask is feeling because their facial expressions are obscured. There can many reasons behind the worries. If you can identify their specific thoughts or images, then you can help them cope with their anxieties.

4. Buy a costume and mask up. Plan with your child that you are going to practice Halloween by wearing costumes prior to trick-or-treating. You can take time to plan out your costumes and gradually expose your child to playing with the mask when it’s not being worn, have them try it on, and slowly build up to you wearing a mask and costume until your child feels comfortable. You can also watch videos and look at pictures of others in masks and costumes.

5. During trick-or-treating, follow your child’s lead. Provide them with support by acknowledging their fears while also showing them that you are confident they can handle their anxiety. For example, you might want to say, “I know how scary it is for you to see others in vampire costumes and I believe you can face your fears.” When you see them passing others on the street in costume, praise them for their efforts.

References

salehi, M., Amanat, M., Khaleghi, A., Hooshyari, Z., Mostafavi, S. A., Ahmadi, N., ... & Mohammadi, M. R. (2022). The Lifetime Prevalence, Risk Factors, and Co-Morbidities of Specific Phobia Among Pediatric Population: A Cross-Sectional National Survey. Clinical Medicine Insights: Psychiatry, 13, 11795573211070537.

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