In Halloween season, the question looms large: How scary is “too scary” for small children and pre-tweens? Will your toddler be traumatized by the sight of “monstrous” trick-or-treaters at your door? Should your jack-o-lantern be friendly or menacing?
Whatever your concerns, it might be nice if Halloween were the only time of year children were exposed to the concept of fright. Kids these days are told since toddlerhood that murderers lurk around every corner and civilization may come to an end any day. Many children and adults live in constant terror.
If you want better for your own children, jump off the “over-informed, super-cautious” bandwagon and learn the language of confidence and courage.
Today, news broadcasts run 24/7—and, to fill all that time, news channels are glutted with “experts” speculating on what disaster might happen next. Too much of that will make you a nervous wreck at any age; but preschool children, already aware of their own lack of power, don’t need to learn yet that Mom and Dad don’t control the whole world either. If you watch TV news yourself, limit it to the traditional hour—after the kids are in bed.
The principle of not exposing your children to scary news (or documentaries or fiction) also applies to print media and the Internet. You may not be able to escape all negative input in these days of televisions in every waiting room, but you can take every opportunity to introduce your kids to viewing and reading that emphasizes more hopeful themes.
While everyone eventually has to accept that some things can’t be avoided or changed, 85 percent of the things we worry about never happen; and when they do, the odds are at least four to one they won’t be as bad as anticipated. When your kids are nervous about something they heard, encourage them to focus on positive things they can do in the moment, rather than automatically believing the worst-case scenario.
Of course you don’t want your kids running blindly into the street or accepting rides from strangers. But spare them gory details about what might happen: not only will that make them unnecessarily fearful, it may actually increase their risk of getting involved with “friendly” strangers who don’t look like the monsters they imagined. While explaining personal-safety rules, have a realistic picture of the true risks, and let children know their greatest safety is in calmness and confidence.
Children, like adults, absorb attitudes from peers. If your child is spending time with someone who is seriously fearful, bullies others, and/or has ultra-protective parents, have a talk with your kid on how they really feel about this friendship. It’s not usually necessary to issue a “Have nothing more to do with that bad influence” order: when children are encouraged to think for themselves, and they sense your respect and support, they nearly always make the right decisions on their own.