October 28, 1995
Web posted at: 11:50 p.m. EDT
From Correspondent Al Hinman
ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- 'Tis the season for fright, and there's no better time than Halloween night. Witches are scary; spiders are too. And so is that mysterious candy goo. Toss in some ghosts, goblins and more. Just be careful, and avoid too much gore. Ever wonder why children, of all ages, take such delight in things that go bump in the night?
Psychologist Robert Simmeron is convinced that Halloween is not bad for children. "It's a great opportunity for kids to deal with fear and to separate out what's exciting and what's fearful," he says.
But parents need to help their children handle the holiday's darker side. "When they're dealing with demons and ghosts and devils and that type of thing, it is nice time to talk about how feelings are different than reality. How pretend and imagination is different than real things," Simmeron says.
Children often have a love-hate relationship with scary things. Rhonda Ingwerson gets her two young daughters involved in Halloween by preparing early, and turning the holiday into a major production.
The children, like most, want costumes that match this year's neighborhood fads. One of the little girls is going as Barney.
Like many moms, Ingwerson tries to help her kids learn the differences between Halloween frights and the fun that can be had on Halloween night. "When they're this little there's no spookiness in it. We don't bring out the ghouly, gruesome stuff," Ingwerson says. (53K AIFF sound or 53K WAV sound)
That's the right approach, according to child psychologists. Keep Halloween fun and light for younger children. And listen to make sure that your older kids are ready for the scarier aspects of Halloween. "One of the worst things one can do is say, 'Oh, that's silly to be afraid. (Or) oh, there's nothing to be afraid of,'" Simmeron says. (78K AIFF sound or 78K WAV sound)
Be it fear of the night or something scarier, child psychologists say talking through fears can help children master them. "If they get too upset and get too scared, they'll let you know," Simmeron says. "And I think one of the key things is to listen to them and to take them seriously."
Parents were forced to listen to their children recently when one California school system threatened to ban Halloween festivities. Some parents felt that the holiday celebrates the devil. But a lot of kids, of all ages, disagreed, regardless of Halloween's origins. "Don't scare our children by treating ghosts and goblins and demons as if they were real and dangerous to their soul," a Halloween advocate said at the school board meeting.
Child psychologists say that parents can help prepare their children not only for Halloween but also for life's sometimes scary surprises. "Part of the fun of having the natural process of development unfold is learning how to be excited and to handle fear," Simmeron says.
Many experts recommend parents share exciting, perhaps even scary, stories with their children year-round. "The things we read in scary stories are just using our imaginations to evoke a feeling. And sometimes that feeling is happiness or sometimes that feeling is surprise and sometimes that feeling is the spooky scary feelings of Halloween," says Stephen Sisson of Barnes and Noble Books.
Want to help make sure your children enjoy the fun this Halloween? Put on a costume and join them. And Happy Halloween, whatever your age.
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