Halloween is spooky, scary, dark and often loud. Trick or treating can be one of the year’s best highlights for some kids, but those with anxiety may find themselves filled with dread about it. Walking up to strangers’ houses, that may have scary decorations, and then having to talk to a stranger can be overwhelming for a child with anxiety. But that doesn’t mean you should skip out on the whole thing and let them stay home where they feel safe.
Halloween can be a great opportunity to practice exposure therapy with you child. If you are with them, and you’re well illuminated and cautious of traffic, the actual risk for any real danger is low. Many of the challenges are psychological – fear of the dark, of spooky decorations and of having to speak to new people. But if you support your child, encourage them to be brave and push back against their anxiety, it can be an excellent way to help them overcome at least some of their fear and get some confidence.
Here are some ways you can help your anxious child prepare:
- Practice what they need to say with them – yelling “Trick or Treat”, saying what their costume is and then “Thank you” will help prepare them for the majority of interactions with the people they will meet. You can even have them practice it at your own door with them first.
- Go out while it’s still light and walk the route you will take (or drive it if you’re short on time). Let them see it all in daylight so it will be more familiar when the sun goes down. Talk to them about decorations you see in a positive way and how people have put them up for fun to celebrate the holiday.
- When trick or treating, offer to go up to the first few houses with them but – if it’s age appropriate and feels safe – encourage them to try going alone, or with siblings and friends, while you watch them from the curb.
Anxiety can be tackled, or at least minimized, with practice and persistence. And when it comes to Halloween, there are built-in rewards to pushing back against the anxiety – time with family, time with friends and candy!