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CAMPS & SCHOOLS - ANTON COMMUNITY NEWSPAPERS - OCTOBER 26, 2012 1C C AMPS & S CHOOLS Making Halloween A Treat Instead Of A Trick Advice from early childhood professionals on helping children who are frightened by the holiday By Ronald Scaglia or most children, Halloween is one of the most eagerly anticipated days of the year. After all, it’s a chance to dress up in a costume, participate in the fun activities that are held in schools, go trick-or-treating with friends, and bring home candy to enjoy. However, there is another side to Halloween, the spooky side. While adults may enjoy scary costumes and bloodcurdling tricks, for children, especially younger kids, some Halloween activities can be terrifying. “Walking around at night with scary costumes, the younger you are the less you are able to differentiate real from fiction,” says Dr. Robert Dicker, associate director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital, part of the North Shore-LIJ Health System. “For a 2- or 3year-old, it can be really frightening.” Marcy Safyer, MSW and director of the Institute for Planning at Adelphi University, concurs that while Halloween can be fun for many children, others will find it very scary. She adds that some of the fear may not be related to scary costumes but is simply a result of the responsible advice that children are given to be cautious of strangers. “To go up and knock on the doors of strangers is counter to what we tell them the rest of the year,” Safyer comments. So what should parents do if terrifying costumes and decorations frighten their children? According to Dicker, Safyer, and Katie Henry, a pre-K teacher at Portledge School, parents should be understanding of their children’s fears and be supportive. “Respect children and their fears,” Henry advises. “It’s a protection mechanism.” All three experts concur that children should not be forced into excessive trick-or-treating. For some children, a visit to three or four friendly houses may be enough for children to get some enjoyment from the holiday without being pushed excessively. “Parents should pick up cues from their child,” advises Dicker. “If they’re in tears, getting candy is not worth it.” Safyer adds that it is okay for parents to accompany their F Although, many children enjoy Halloween, some kids, especially younger children, might be frightened by the spooky theme of the holiday. children to the doors to trick-or-treat, if they are afraid to go on their own and they even may carry their children if necessary. She further says that homes, decorated so they appear scary, should be skipped. “It’s really fine if you have a child who indicates that some things frighten them, to give them some room,” Safyer explained. “Some kids find it scary and if they do it’s probably just what they’re going through developmentally. If they find it scary one year, it doesn’t mean they’ll find it scary the next year.” In addition, Henry advises that there are other Halloween activities that might be a better solution for some children. Examples of such include pumpkin carving parties, or Halloween parties without costumes. Another suggestion she offers is trick-or-treating in a very friendly environment. She commented that Portledge School offers trick-or-treating in one of its buildings. Dicker also advises parents to monitor the television shows and movies that their children may watch on Halloween and the days leading up to it. He cautions that there is some very frightening and gory programming that is aired in October that children can be exposed to. He says that some adults, who are otherwise responsible about shielding children from such images, may not be so diligent when it comes to holiday-themed specials. “It’s really basic common sense principles when all is said and done, but sometimes, on the holiday, it’s forgotten,” says Dicker. The choice of costume can also contribute to the anxiety that some children will feel about the holiday. Safyer advises that parents choose a whimsical costume, such as a princess, instead of scarier outfits. Henry adds that parents may let their children have input into the choice, and that a costume such as a superhero may allow children to feel empowered. However, although parents need to be mindful that Halloween may be frightening for some, it can still be quite fun for many. “I love Halloween and I love Almond Joy,” Dicker said with a chuckle.

Camp and School: October 26, 2012

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