Halloween is a recognized holiday throughout the world. This holiday gives us the opportunity to escape our “normal life” and enter the world of ghosts, goblins, and witches. Interestingly, Halloween is also a unique opportunity to face some of our fears once per year. From the point of view of a CBT therapist, Halloween is a perfect example of exposure therapy. We purposely dress in spooky clothing and invite fear in celebration. Many even seek the thrill of haunted mazes and theme parks. Therefore, Halloween could be an opportune time for parents to talk with children about their “irrational” fears and help reduce anxiety in a positive and playful way.
Nowadays, however, it seems that the fears of vampires, zombies, and mummies are not scaring children most. In fact, sometimes, reality is scarier! We live in an environment that is characterized by tragic and horrific events like terrorist attacks, domestic violence, and discriminations. The threat is real and publicized more than ever. So how can parents explain these real-life events to their children? How can parents talk to their children about the horrors throughout history, including 9/11, war, genocide, and racism? Parents, too, are often left worried when considering how their children might think about and react to these issues. These are life’s real, uncontrollable “monsters” and they are very scary!
So, what can parents do?
Firstly, parents are encouraged to normalize the fear related to these events by sharing their own feelings in a contained and gentle approach in order to help children feel heard, understood, supported, and that they are not the only ones who feel these emotions. The more that children learn that these worries are shared by others, their emotions are validated. However, if left at that, then the child’s fear is only fueled by these confirmations.
Therefore, parents should also teach acceptance. This means talking to them honestly and sincerely about the impossibility of controlling some events while encouraging them to think about all the wonderful aspects of life they’d be missing if they avoided living everyday life as usual. Parents might consider making a list of all the things their child will miss out on if they lived in constant fear of uncontrollable situations. A good example is to remind children about ways they currently go about their daily life without worries about natural disasters, such as earthquakes, but are still prepared in case these situations arise.
Lastly, parents can encourage children to do what they want to do anyway, even when afraid, to demonstrate that fear need not be a barrier, but something to overcome. Parents are responsible for teaching and modeling that they can live their lives freely even if the world is full of horrible monsters!
Enjoy your Halloween and these “not-so-scary” fears!