Is Halloween Too Scary? Strategies to Support Kids Mental HealthOct 27, 2022
What does mental well-being and Halloween have in common?
We know that our kids’ mental and social well-being is of utmost importance.
But this ‘spooky’ holiday can bring about many mixed feelings…
From the pressure of dressing up, to the unnatural normalization of some very unnatural (and often terrifying) images, all the way to the excitement of getting candy, Halloween hosts a whole range of emotions.
The truth is, this spooky holiday can be really fun but it can also be really scary – even traumatizing – especially if your child suffers from any social and/or emotional anxiety. Over the years, many of my clients have come to me concerned about their kids’ level of anxiety during the Halloween season.
Sleep issues, separation anxiety, fear and heightened emotions (even for our teens) are some of the concerns families have and it leaves parents feeling frustrated, impatient, and uncertain of how to best support their child. You can help your children have a fun and enjoyable Halloween celebration with a couple of simple and effective strategies.
Here are the 2 ways to help support your child’s mental well-being during this “scary” holiday season.
- Reduce their Anxiety
- Build their Resiliency
Easy, right? Allow me to explain…
Reducing their Anxiety
Firstly, we need to Reduce their Anxiety. Everyone has different levels of tolerance when it comes to seeing scary or suspenseful imagery.
There is a lot of pressure to think some of the imagery is funny or even normal. The reality is, for many, seeing bloody corpses, witches and zombie-like images walking around is not normal.
Here’s where it gets tricky, some kids will say they’re okay with it but then they have a hard time going to sleep or seem to be more emotionally sensitive.
As a Connected Parenting Practitioner, I know behaviour is not the real issue, but it is a symptom of what’s truly going on beneath.
If we don’t have open and unconditional communication with our kids, it could be difficult to find the truth.
Allow me to share with you what could be happening underneath the sleepless, moody and anxious behaviours.
From a neurobiological perspective, their autonomic system may be heighted and in a trauma-response mode (fight, flight, freeze, fawn). They will express their angst in a variety of ways (sleep difficulties, fearful thoughts, heightened emotions, shutting down, etc).
They hold it together during the day or when they are with friends and at school, but when they get a moment to themselves, their true feelings begin to show up. It’s important to know that these behaviours usually surface when their system feels safe enough – usually in the presence of a loving parent. This often leaves parents a bit confused – but remember – the behaviour is not the real issue.
Parents typically want to “fix” the problem, but that won’t get to the root of the behaviour and, what’s worse, it may discourage your child from communicating with you.
Here’s what to do:
Mirror your child’s emotional experience. You can do this by using the C.A.L.M Technique to help your child feel seen, heard, and understood. When you do this, the natural hormone called oxytocin will flood their system (as well as yours) and you’ll be in a better position to discover what is really bothering them.
If you’re not familiar with the C.A.L.M Technique, please email me at [email protected] and I’ll send you some information.
Here’s what not to do:
Don’t deny your child’s feelings.
What they feel is completely real to them in the moment that they are feeling it.
Is it logical? Probably not.
Is it helpful if we try to make them feel differently? Nope… not yet.
First, we need to mirror their emotional experience and then – and only then – can we speak in more logical terms with them.
Remember, we are not just parents – we are substitute frontal lobes. Speaking logically is part of the function of the frontal lobe, which is a part of the brain that is offline when anxiety is heightened. The first thing you need to do is calm your child’s neurobiological system, hence the mirroring!
Build their Resiliency
The second thing you can do to best support your child during this spooky holiday is to Build their Resiliency.
We can’t protect our kids from everything and truthfully, we don’t want to. Doing so removes from them the opportunity to practice building this life-long tool called resilience.
Many parents do what they can to prevent their kids from experiencing some of the ‘icky’ emotions such as feeling hurt, embarrassed, excluded or ridiculed, etc. I know it’s tempting to create a ‘bubble’ around our kids so they don’t go through experiences that have them feeling these ‘negative’ emotions.
However, these emotions are part of life. You can’t avoid them forever.
Our job as parents is to not protect them from feeling these emotions, but rather to be there to support them when they experience them.– Natalie Syrmopoulos
Why? Because the truth is, they will experience these ‘icky’ emotions at some point or another.
How do we support them?
Firstly, by reflecting back (mirroring) their emotional experience (see the first step above).
Then, we can give them tools to help build their resiliency.
Create a resiliency tool kit with strategies based on logic (aka – the frontal lobe).
The frontal lobe is not fully developed until approximately age 25. During this time, their executive functioning skills are developing and the brain is extremely pliable. As a parent, we have the opportunity to help create neuropathways that will equip our children with go-to strategies to help build resilience and confidence.
This is when we can come in with our typical parental support. But remember it would have to be after their emotional experience has been mirrored back to them.
Here’s what not to do:
Don’t brush off their fears and don’t try to convince them to not be scared.
Parents typically “encourage” their children to move past the fear by telling them to “just get over it” or “be tough” or assure them that “it’s not a big deal”, which isn’t helpful and it often leaves the child feeling unheard and invalidated.
After you mirror their emotional experience, you can strengthen your child’s bandwidth of resiliency with a couple of simple strategies.
Here’s what to do:
Below are a couple of resiliency tools that will support your child – please keep in mind that every child is different. Try a couple to see which aligns best with the way you’d like to parent and if it’s a good fit for your child.
- Let them know they are safe. Simply say to them “You are safe.” and offer a hug. These comforting words can soothe their autonomic system and ease some trauma responses (fight, flight, freeze, fawn) that they’re experiencing. If your child is having a hard time going to sleep, remind them that your job is to keep them safe at night and their only job at bedtime is to go to sleep. This predictability gives their neurobiology a chance to relax, giving their frontal lobe a chance to step in and think more logically.
- Do a truth check. This is great for kids who are afraid of the dark or ghosts/witches. Gently bring to their attention how they’ve seen pretend witches and ask them if they’ve ever seen a real one. Similarly, you can prompt them to recall when they’ve gone to sleep before in the dark and ask them if, when they woke up the next day, was everything okay? Were they safe? Gathering evidence that they have done this before and they’ve been okay helps build their identity capital and confidence!
- Hang out with your kid and don’t mention anything about Halloween! This is a great one for our teens or kids who don’t like to talk much. Sometimes simply connecting with our kids on something they like to do is medicine enough. Not sure what they’re into? Just ask them! Neither of you can come up with something? Just listen to music together, go out for a meal or watch your favourite movie. Intentionally taking our mind off of something can interrupt troubling thoughts.
- Reminisce on the good old times. Want to really get the oxytocin (aka love hormone) flowing in your systems? Look at baby pictures or videos with them and talk about how cute they are!!! This reaffirms your early attachment, care and love and brings a sense of safety and love to both of you. This is co-regulation at its simplest.
It’s important to note that when we are practicing these strategies that we embody a particular energy within us. More specifically, when you approach these resilience building strategies, be sure that your objective is to connect with and soothe your child.
Sometimes, especially when we have so much on the go, we may want to rush this process. You may even find yourself feeling a bit frustrated and wondering or wishing your child was different. It may sneak up on you with thoughts such as: I wish my child was more brave. I wish my child was less scared. I wish my child would communicate more.
There is nothing wrong with these thoughts per se, however, being aware of them helps you shift your parenting so that you come from a place of love, not lack.
Not sure if these strategies will work with your child?
Simply book a FREE Connection Call with me and I’ll help you out!
Giving these suggestions a try along with making slight shifts in your parenting will help your child build a sense of confidence within themselves while strengthening the connection with you.
Their anxiety will reduce and they will build a tool kit of resilience building superpowers.
Halloween can be a fun and wonderful experience IF we do what it takes to support our child’s mental well being.
Happy Trick or Treating!
Learn more about how you can build resilience, emotional agility, and conscious awareness within your family, and bring ease and joy into your home.
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