Halloween can sometimes be a little too spooky for some of our youngest trick-or-treaters. Here are some tips on how to make the holiday a little less scary, but still fun. (Jorge Ribas/The Washington Post)

The first few Halloweens of my children’s lives were not as I had pictured. When our older son was just over 2 years old, he spent the holiday wide-eyed and quiet, and couldn’t fall asleep until he was squished and safe in our bed. He was scared witless.

No wonder: He was teeny and the older kids in the neighborhood were enjoying the 31st, as they should. One neighbor stopped by with a bloody zombie baby in a stroller, something I tried to steer Sam away from, but a step too late.

Me? I love Halloween. But I cringe when I see things like the fake decapitated head hanging from the porch near the school. (Also home to a lawn ornament zombie baby. What is that?) Is this season the reason my younger son was up with a nightmare about “the red guy with a pinch fork” last night?

Perhaps.

But I want to make the Halloween festivus a part of our lives, so I’ve done a lot of thinking about how to ease them into this season, help them enjoy the spookiness, but not be too spooked. I recently spoke with Denise Daniels, a child psychologist, with some good tips to help your scaredy cat get through to the candy haul:

Remember that Halloween isn’t always a fun time for kids. It has become such a big holiday, they are seeing decorations out weeks before they may go trick-or-treating. So you need to prepare them, says Daniels, especially if you have a child who is more sensitive to scary things. “It’s just like taking a 2-year-old to see Santa Claus,” she said. We want those pictures, but how many of those shots feature wailing kids? Right. It’s not all about us, folks.

Celebrate the fun, not the fright. Read them stories that aren’t scary but that do have to do with Halloween, pumpkins or the time of year. The above picture is from a book my mother made for my kids when they were small. It’s about a pumpkin who needed a light for Halloween — and saved a firefly from being squished under a rock. Not too much to fear there, and yet it makes the idea of jack-o-lanterns pretty fun.


Friendly, happy Halloween books are best for the littlest goblins. (Amy Joyce)

Trick-or-treating may be a fun photo op for you, but let your child lead the way. You don’t have to take your cute pumpkin trick-or-treating. Just throw them in their costume, and go say hi to immediate neighbors. Parents need to watch their little ones and then decide whether even that is possible for their youngest ones.

Put the focus on the season rather than the holiday. If your child is clearly nervous about it, take the focus off Halloween and talk about a fun harvest celebration, Daniels said. There are things that are tamer and friendlier that the ghosts and ghouls, like scarecrows and pumpkins. Go pick your own pumpkins, talk about the farm, make it a teachable moment.

Remember that preschoolers are in the age of magical thinking. When someone rings a doorbell, little ones may run for cover because they think that costume is real. Ask a few trick-or-treaters to remove their masks and show your child it is pretend. And be patient with your kids. “They don’t grow out of that stage until 6 or 7, so that’s a lot of [potentially scary] Halloweens,” Daniels said.

Happy Halloween, all.

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