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Not Too Scary: Make this Halloween Just Plain Fun

Toddler in chicken costume

Fairy costumes, ghostly décor, spooky stories, too: Halloween is a fun time of year for children and their budding imaginations, but it can also be confusing and even downright scary. You may be wondering why your pumpkin is feeling a wee bit spooked: Young children, especially those under the age of five, are still learning the difference between real and make-believe—and on Halloween, that line can easily become blurred. 

“While a five-year-old can distinguish between real and pretend, they don’t always know how to make that distinction every time,” says Christine Pieper, director of Quality and Accreditation for KinderCare. Here’s how to get your favorite little goblin into the Halloween spirit without heading into the fright zone:

1. Start Preparing a Week Before (Not More)

Young children don’t have a good concept of time, so Pieper recommends prepping a week before the big day—that way kids will still feel excited without being frustrated by a long wait they don’t fully understand. (And you won’t have to keep explaining that they’ll wear their robot costume three weekends from now, or argue about why they can’t eat the candy corn yet.)

2. Provide Seasonal Décor to Explore

Save the bloodied zombies for grownup parties and opt for non-scary seasonal themes and objects that kids can explore freely. Young children learn through their senses, so items like bumpy gourds, colorful corncobs, straw, and oranges will engage their sense of touch, sight, and smell and help divert their fears. (Love pumpkin carving but hate the mess? Check out our no-carve pumpkin head for a kid-friendly fall-themed arts and craft session!)

3. Share Halloween Stories from the Comfort of Your Lap

Fright-free Halloween books like Llama Llama Trick or Treat will show them what to expect. Talk about what you might see and do: “Lots of people will play dress-up, even grownups! We will see so many jack o’ lanterns. Remember last year? You were dressed as a black cat!” Look at past family photos from Halloween to remind your child that they have done this before (and it was fun)!

4. Enlist Their Costume Creativity

Let your child choose their own costume, or better yet, make it together! Making their own costume is a chance for your child to express their creativity and allows them to feel in control. Ease them into the festivities by encouraging them to dress in their costume a week or two before Halloween and use their imagination to play “trick-or-treat.”

5. Meet the Kids Behind the Masks

If your child is really spooked or confused by Halloween costumes, help them connect the dots between reality and fantasy by asking the trick-or-treaters on your well-lit porch to take off their masks. Your child may even recognize some of them!

6. Let Your Child Know You Understand Their Fears

While monsters, skeletons, and ghouls may be a part of your grownup Halloween identity, for some little ones (and older kids, too), they can be a source of pure terror. If they're still asking anxious questions about monsters at the door—and insist on all lights on during the night of fright—then it’s best to empathize with their fears, turn on the lights, and stay curled up in fuzzy pajamas. Next year, they’ll be older and might feel differently about Halloween—and there’s plenty of time for spooky houses in the future.

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