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Halloween Costumes Frighten Three-Year-Old

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: It's almost Halloween again, and I want to avoid a repeat of last year. My wife and I love Halloween -- we dress up, play spooky music, the whole bit. The kids in the neighborhood seem to like it (our own are grown up). Last year, I had my three-year-old granddaughter come to help us answer the door for trick-or-treaters. I was caught off-guard when she became terrified by some of the ghoulish costumes and realistic make-up that some of the older kids wore. This year, at 4, she seems to have forgotten, and is excited about Halloween (she'll be a Dalmatian). How can I help her understand that it's all just costumes and make-up and that it is supposed to be fun? Thanks for your help.

A Concerned Grandpa

A: There's usually a world of difference between a four-year-old and a three-year-old, at all levels of emotional, social, and cognitive development. I can recall my five-year-old niece informing me that she wasn't scared of the person in the blue genie costume like she was when she was four. When we did encounter the blue genie again she was indeed not afraid (although she didn't exactly strike up a conversation with him).

Although she appears to have forgotten last year's terror (kids do not forget such initial horrors) and shows excitement for this coming Halloween, your concerns are valid.

Four-years-old is mature enough to ask her if she wants to greet kids at the door this year. You may remind her that she was frightened last year and that you want her to have a good time with you this year. Take her at her word if she says she doesn't think she'll be scared of some of the costumes and makeup. Don't push her to do this, but offer to take her to a store that sells scary masks and costumes. You and she might try on some of the scarier masks and pretend to frighten each other. This may give you a clue as to her readiness.

I would have activities planned for her other than her answering the door with you (baking and decorating Halloween cookies, "pin the tail on the ghost", a Halloween piñata, telling spooky stories, bobbing for apples). You may tell her that you'll call on her to bring you candy for some of the kids at the door. That way you can screen the truly gruesome and invite her to join you for only the non-terrifying variety.

She can enjoy these holiday activities and look forward to them as Halloween rituals she shares with you every year.

She should never be made to feel ashamed for being scared. Always tell her that you understand that she's frightened and that you can sure see why. Assure her that these ghouls would scare you if you were a little boy her age. Then shift the focus to all the great, fun-filled activities for her. Make her feel that she's the special Halloween girl on this unique evening.

Have a great time grandpa. Make some memories with this darling little girl.

More on: Expert Advice

Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.


Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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