Getting Children Excited for Halloween

Getting Children Excited for Halloween

Local experts offer advice for keeping trick-or-treating fun, not scary, for small children.

For some young children, Halloween festivities that are meant to entertain can cause too much of a fright.  Merriment that includes activities such as arts and crafts can make celebrations less intimidating.

For some young children, Halloween festivities that are meant to entertain can cause too much of a fright. Merriment that includes activities such as arts and crafts can make celebrations less intimidating. Photo by Marilyn Campbell.

For many children, Halloween is one of the most anticipated holidays of the year. From Power Rangers and athletes to princesses and pirates, dressing up in their spookiest or most imaginative attire and trolling the streets in search of treats is a major part of the fun for school-age children. For younger children, however, the ghosts and goblins who are meant to entertain can cause too much of a fright.

“Halloween can be a wonderful holiday for children,” said Linda Gulyn, professor of psychology at Marymount University in Arlington. “But fears related to Halloween are real to children, especially in the preschool years, ages 2-5.”

One of the reasons that Halloween can be particularly frightening for small children is because they are highly imaginative, but not logical, she added. “They believe what they see is real and true. For example, if a little [3-year-old] boy puts on a werewolf mask, he sees himself as a werewolf and believes he is.”

The same is true when children see adults in costume. “If Mom puts on a witch costume, this could lead to fear that she has turned into a witch” Gulyn said. “Kids fail to realize that appearance can be transformed, such as placing a mask on a face, but the person is still the person.”

Parents and caregivers can help determine what is too scary for a child and at what age. “It is important know your child and observe their reactions to certain characters or situations during the Halloween season,” said Ashley Akerman, a family counselor in private practice in Potomac, Md. “Something as innocent as a 6-year-old in a furry squirrel costume can frighten a 2-year-old child. Keep a close watch on the way that your child reacts and notice if they seem frightened or concerned.”

HALLOWEEN CAN BE OVERWHELMING for many. With strangers ringing the doorbell, people walking around with masks on, and some costumes that are downright gory, it can be very scary, especially for younger children. “It is important to know your child's developmental stage as well as their overall temperament, as each child is different,” said Carolyn Lorente, associate professor of psychology at Northern Virginia Community College’s Alexandria campus.

Validate and avoid diminishing the significance of a child’s fears, says Lorente. “If they express fears or insecurities, follow your child's lead,” she said. “Remember, you are their safe place. But telling them that there is nothing to be afraid of starts a lifetime of not cuing into their own feelings and intuition. This is not what you want your child to learn.”

Instead, make sure a child knows that it is normal to be afraid of people, environments or situations that are unfamiliar. There are ways, said Lorente, to familiarize young children with Halloween. “Play. Kids learn through play,” she said. “For all kids, before the big day, talk about Halloween so they know how your family celebrates the event and what to expect.”

Festive cooking, as well as arts and crafts, can also make the holiday less intimidating. “Build up to the event by making Halloween-themed cookies, decorating a pumpkin and drawing pictures to post on the door to greet the trick-or-treaters,” said Lorente. “Play dress up with your child. Give them opportunities to see you putting on a mask and taking it off. You can even make your own masks using a paper plate, cutting out space for eyes, decorating it and gluing on a popsicle stick.”

Gulyn suggests forgoing potentially scary movies and gory, dramatic costumes and masks. “For young children, I like costumes where the child's face is still recognizable, for example, a ballet dancer or a firefighter. That is really fun for the child.”

A child’s pleasure during the holiday is the most important factor to consider. “Respect the limitations of young children's understanding of reality,” said Gulyn. “Take cues from the kids, even if you worked tirelessly on a realistic-looking vampire costume. Don't worry: that vampire will be appreciated in a year or two.”

Halloween Safety Tips from the Fairfax County Police

As children take to the streets on Halloween to trick-or-treat, their risk of being injured by motorists increases greatly. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that Halloween is consistently one of the top three days for pedestrian injuries and fatalities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that children are four times more likely to be struck by a motor vehicle on Halloween than any other day of the year.

Because excited trick-or-treaters often forget about safety, parents must be even more alert. Here are some tips for helping keep young ones safe on Halloween:


  • Ensure an adult or older, responsible youth is available to supervise children under age 12.

  • Plan and discuss the route your trick-or-treaters will follow.

  • Instruct children to travel only in familiar areas and along established routes.

  • Teach children to stop only at well-lit houses and to never enter a stranger’s home or garage.

  • Establish a time for children to return home.

  • Tell children not to eat any treats until they get home.

  • Review trick-or-treating safety precautions, including pedestrian and traffic safety rules.

  • Make sure Halloween costumes are flame-retardant and visible with retro-reflective material.


  • Be bright at night: Wear retro-reflective tape on costumes and treat buckets to improve visibility to motorists and others.

  • Wear disguises that don’t obstruct vision, and avoid facemasks. Instead, use nontoxic face paint. Also, watch the length of billowy costumes to help avoid tripping.

  • Carry a flashlight containing fresh batteries and place it facedown in the treat bucket to free up one hand. Never shine it into the eyes of oncoming drivers.

  • Stay on sidewalks and avoid walking in streets if possible.

  • If there are no sidewalks, walk on the left side of the road, facing traffic.

  • Look both ways and listen for traffic before crossing the street.

  • Cross streets only at the corner, and never cross between parked vehicles or mid-block.

  • Trick-or-treat in a group if someone older cannot go with you.

  • Tell your parents where you are going.