Newswise — Trick-or-treating is a time-honoured tradition that thousands of young children look forward to every year. But some children may be a little uneasy, or even fearful, of people dressed up as strange-looking creatures wandering through their neighbourhood on Halloween asking for candy and treats. Professor Martin Antony, a leading expert on phobias and chair of Ryerson University’s psychology department, offers a few tips to parents to help ease their children’s anxieties -- and have some fun.
1. Anxiety is easiest to manage when situations are predictable. Explain to your child what is likely to happen during Halloween to minimize any surprises. You can also reduce uncertainty by taking your child to a costume store to see the range of costumes that will likely be encountered on Halloween. Have your child try on a few different costumes and take some photos. Seeing him or herself dressed as a ghost or witch will help to reduce fear of others wearing similar costumes on Halloween.
2. Explain to your child that the people he or she encounters are just pretending to be scary, and that it’s all in good fun.
3. If your child is nervous about visiting strangers’ homes, visit familiar homes first, such as those of neighbours or friends. As your child becomes more comfortable, you can venture out and try some other homes in the neighbourhood.
4. If your child is nervous about going out after dark, consider trick or treating while there is still some light outside.
5. Safety in numbers. Your child may feel most comfortable going out with a small group of familiar people, such as parents, grandparents, siblings or friends.
6. Do your best to be supportive and empathic – try to see the situation through your child’s eyes. Also, keep your own expectations in check. If your Halloween plans don’t work out this year, be prepared to end the evening early. Although it’s often helpful to encourage children to confront the situations they fear, your encouragement should be positive and supportive. Forcing a screaming child to do something terrifying may make the fear worse.
7. If your child is too afraid to go out for Halloween, consider having him or her dress up at home and give out candy to other children.
8. Finally, parents sometimes worry about the safety of their children during Halloween. Be careful to keep your own fears in check, and be sure not to model excessive or unrealistic fears in front of your children.
Expert available for interviews:
Martin Antony, Professor and Chair, Department of Psychology
Co-Author, Anti-Anxiety Workbook: Proven Strategies to Overcome Worry, Panic, Phobias and Obsessions
Office: 416-979-5000 x 2631
* Available only for phone interviews until Friday, Oct. 25; Not available from Mon., Oct. 29 to Wed., Oct. 31