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6 Ways to Prepare Your Timid Preschooler

QUESTION: I have always enjoyed holidays and Halloween is one of my favorites. I decorate the house and yard, get dressed in costume and have "scary" treats for trick-or-treaters. All the neighborhood kids love my house. My problem is that my four-year-old son is petrified of anything Halloween. Does this mean I can't continue with my traditions or can I do something to help him get over this?

ANSWER: Your son can definitely learn to overcome his fears with preparation and proper pacing. If this is one of your family rituals, he will no doubt come to love it as much as you do if his needs for reassurance are met.

Consider the following points in preparing your four-year-old for this year's Halloween:

  1. Engage him in playful exercises. These will help desensitize him to what he will be seeing on Halloween: Start with face painting. Paint his face with a mask and/or other decorations. Paint yours as well. The painting process slows things down. He can get used to looking at himself in a mirror and at you with a painted face. Practice making "scary" faces at each other. And happy faces, too! Perhaps you both could try on some wax vampire teeth. Also, consider wearing costumes around the house during the week before the big day.

  2. Anticipate his fears. Clearly explain or demonstrate the pretend nature of scary objects that you believe may frighten him. For example, if you construct a realistic looking witch, goblin or monster for this event, tell him you are doing so. Let him feel the texture of the rubber and remind him that these are just dolls. Even play peek-a-boo with a scary, realistic mask until squeals of pleasure replace a tense or worried expression. Pace your playfulness, however, do not force it! Be sure he is in on a similar wavelength. Leave the mask off longer if he looks tense before putting it on only briefly again. Then give him the mask and let him try to scare you, too!

  3. Visit stores that display Halloween costumes and decorations. Browsing will help desensitize him to what may appear at his door on Halloween. In fact, he may be relieved to know where these "monsters" really come from! Also, discuss with your child what his friends are going to be for Halloween.

  4. Create a quiet place for your son to escape festivities. This allows him to withdraw from too much stimulation, if necessary. Anticipate that he will need some downtime while the event is going on. (Naturally, he should have a parent with him for company and comfort.) Likewise, if he does any trick-or-treating, be sure he is not overwhelmed by parades of goblins that never stop. Make his trip a "short and sweet" success.

  5. Involve him in giving out treats. Also, ask him what kind of costume he would like to wear to help you with this year's Halloween ritual. By having a job he can master, it is likely that confidence will replace fear.

  6. Always include safety awareness in your Halloween preparation. Let your son know that he must check with you before eating anything given to him. And don't forget to bring along a flashlight to help light your way.
Have a safe and happy Halloween!


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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