Preparing little kids for scary things

Thomas Hobson, director of Child Life, loves Halloween. Dressing up in costumes and collecting candy can be a lot of fun. Halloween can be terrifying for little ones, especially those experiencing their first trick or treating. Thomas has a few tips to prepare your little ones in advance for things that might be a little scary.

I love Halloween! Working in a children’s hospital helps tremendously to get into the spirit of the holiday. Halloween is a combination of two of kids’ favorite things – candy and dressing up in costumes.


However, there is always that darker side of Halloween, and most parents can share at least one story when something scared their child. I was reminded of this recently, when I went into the belly of the beast (a costume store). A minute after I walked in, there was a two-year-old that got the scared after seeing some of the scarier decorations. As an adult, it’s easy to chuckle off these experiences, but to the children experiencing them, it’s terrifying.


That’s why I wanted to share a few tips for parents in talking about Halloween in advance. These tips are geared towards younger kids, who this might be their first or second time really experiencing the holiday.

  • Talk to them in advance: Don’t assume that your child knows much about Halloween. Sure they’ve seen television specials, picked out a costume, but that doesn’t mean that they really understand everything. Talking about these things in advance can make a huge difference.

  • It’s all pretend: Young children understand pretend play, and by emphasizing that this is all pretend helps to ground them in reality. Coming out of your mouth in advance, it is much more reassuring than someone apologizing after the fact.

  • Scary costumes: You’d be surprised what costumes are scary to a child. Some things like zombies and vampires may not faze a child. However, that same child might run away screaming from someone dressed up in a full mascot costume (even if it is their favorite character). Let your child set the pace for approaching them, and if they don’t want to, don’t make them. It can be scary when the child can’t see the person’s face.

  • Let them sleep: There are lots of activities that will be going on this week. If your child is exhausted, they won’t be at their best and may have a meltdown. It is OK to go to events and parties, just make sure naps and bed times are a priority. Remember that you have to live with them.

  • Focus on the fun: Between each event or at the end of the day, don’t focus your conversations on the scary stuff, but instead talk about all of the fun. That helps your child to remember the enjoyment of the holiday.

development, safety