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How can I Help a Child Who is Afraid of Scary Halloween Costumes?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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For many children, Halloween is an exciting day, but for some children, especially young ones, and a few older kids too, it is frightening because of scary Halloween costumes. Some are gory, or others just spooky, and they make certain kids feel extremely uneasy, or even terrified to the point of tears or refusal to participate in traditional Halloween activities. For these kids, Halloween is nightmarish instead of fun.

It’s important if you have a child who is afraid of scary Halloween costumes, or the other trappings of this holiday, to honor this child’s fears. You will not be able to mock the child into being less afraid, or reason the child’s fears away under most circumstances. Trying to drag a fearful child through trick-or-treating serves no purpose. Instead, allow your child to talk through their fears as much as they want, and don’t place the child into a situation where he/she will encounter the things most feared.

At schools, especially elementary schools, you can help by working with the schools PTA or parent organization to eliminate frightening costumes. Since schools have a diverse age population, with some kids as young as four and others as old as twelve, it’s very easy for the older kids to choose scary Halloween costumes that are daunting to more than a few of the younger kids. At parent organization meetings, standards can be set, though this won’t completely avoid all scary Halloween costumes. Yet you can at least rid the school of macabre and gory costumes.

Another possibility for the younger child who has difficulty with scary Halloween costumes is to take them to events designed for younger kids. Schools, pre-schools, churches, or community centers may sponsor events where scary Halloween costumes are specifically banned. Many offer fun festival activities or trick-or-treating so that Halloween can be enjoyed in a fun rather than frightening way. Some churches offer safe trick-or-treating called trunk-or-treating. People decorate their cars, and many of them dress in biblical costumes. Though your child might see a few fellow trick-or-treaters dressed in scary Halloween costumes, the focus is on much more benign costuming.

This issue can get complicated when you have a young child who is afraid of his/her older sibling's choice of costume. You especially need to watch sibling interaction, ban scary costuming of anyone in the home, and make sure that older kids are not teasing the younger one about his/her fears. If you’re a single parent, try to have your older kids go out with another mom or dad in the neighborhood, so the young child’s fears don’t destroy the older kids’ fun, creating resentment. In a two-parent family, have one parent stay home with the child who is afraid of scary Halloween costumes.

You can encourage the frightened child to dress up, and you might steer the child toward costumes that offer magical or superhero protection. Sometimes, a child who is Superman or a friendly witch is a little more inspired by their costume to face their fears. In this instance, allow the child to dictate the degree of participation he or she would like to have in Halloween events. If he only wants to trick-or-treat at a house or two, let him know you’ll bring him home just as soon as he wants. If the child doesn’t want anything to do with the holiday, honor that, and never force the issue. Fears are not rational, and they can be challenging to your plans, but to force a scared child on this issue is likely to establish more fear instead of less.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By lluviaporos — On Jan 04, 2014

@clintflint - It can actually be pretty empowering for kids when they get to wear their own costume as well. I love scary Halloween costumes for girls in particular, because I feel like they hardly ever get a legitimate chance to be a little bit wild.

I've noticed that sometimes children who are scared of costumes when they aren't wearing one will stop being afraid when they put their own mask on. I think it's a psychological thing. If you are pretending to be The Hulk, you can't exactly be afraid of a measly wolf man, can you?

By clintflint — On Jan 03, 2014

@bythewell - I guess that's the same as kids who are bullied turning around and bullying others. Who wouldn't rather be the scary one rather than the victim?

I do think it's good for children to learn about really scary Halloween costumes and how they aren't real though. It probably helps them to process some of the stuff they see on TV and understand that it might seem real, but it's really just pretend.

By bythewell — On Jan 02, 2014

It's really important to talk a lot about this. When I was working in a kindergarten recently the kids were going through a fad where they wore these hooded sweatshirts that zipped all the way up past their face to reveal a picture like a skull or a dinosaur.

The kids were mostly just playing around, pretending to scare each other, but one little boy who was new to the school and hadn't had much experience with other children was absolutely terrified of anyone doing this. They weren't exactly very scary Halloween costumes, but to him they were something to fear, to the point where he would lash out at children who tried to jump at him wearing the hoods.

It took a long time to talk him out of this and there was no way around it. No matter how often we showed him it was only another little boy inside the sweatshirt, he would still get scared.

And then, his mother bought one of those shirts for him and he started to do it himself! Which is why it was good that we talked about it so much with him, because we were able to turn it around and ask him why he was doing it when it scared him so much.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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