If the sights and sounds of Halloween frighten your child, he’s not alone. For many young children the scary costumes, dark decorations, and eerie noises can be quite upsetting.

Kids under age seven are especially vulnerable to Halloween fright because their young brains cannot always be sure of what’s real and what’s just pretend. Also, children who have endured trauma usually have a fragile sense of safety for years afterwards.

Yet each year retailers raise the shock value of their merchandise, and the season becomes gorier. One October day I just happened to walk into a candy store and was greeted by a box full of (artificial) dismembered human hands. I was glad my kids weren’t with me.

Many parents have misgivings about what goes on in the name of Halloween fun, yet most are reluctant to speak up, perhaps for fear that their children will be left out. Fortunately, more and more communities now offer great alternative celebrations that are lots of fun. These non-spooky parties go by names such as Harvest Fair or Hallelujah-Fest, and they tend to be sponsored by religious organizations yet open to the public. Your children will likely find a bunch of adults in friendly costumes, running carnival games and handing out oodles of candy.

Or you might throw your own Harvest party on the 31st, as I did when my kids were small. Here’s how:

  • First, figure out how to escape the Trick-or-Treat routine. You might go out to the countryside. Or you could go down to the basement and keep the upstairs lights turned off. If neither option is available, just close the curtains, hang out a “no trick-or-treaters” sign, and be sure the party inside has plenty of lively music playing during peak doorbell hours.
  • Offer lots of yummy food, including candy, even if you don’t usually allow sugar. (I always served apple and pumpkin pies for the evening’s fruit and veggies.) Also, Thanksgiving stickers make great goodie-bag decorations.
  • Play games like the hokey-pokey, farmer-in-the-dell, or flashlight tag.
  • Decorate small pumpkins, gourds, and ears of corn with glitter, then dance around with them.
  • Most importantly, enlist your kids in the planning so that they’ll buy into the evening. With a little courage, creativity, and teamwork, you can turn an otherwise uncomfortable evening into a terrific lifetime memory.

By Dr. Karen Struble

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