White Knuckle Parenting: When Halloween Is Too Scary
How do you handle Halloween when your kid loves everything about it—except for the 95 percent of it that is terrifying?
Last Halloween, my kids were happily trick or treating when we happened upon neighborhood friends of ours who were doing the same. Hooray, right? Wrong. One of the kids was wearing a Ghostface (from the Scream movies) mask, something my youngest son, Quinn, was unprepared for and, as it turns out, is completely terrified of.
That is him in the picture there, refusing to look at anything but a tree until we assured him that Ghostface was gone and we never had to see him again.
Halloween is approaching again and that same child, now in second grade, is rapidly approaching a state of panic. He was triggered this year by seeing a friend of his in a scary mask, but well before that, he couldn't even walk down the aisle of Halloween costumes at the thrift store, instead standing at the end with his eyes semi-covered as he asked me to find him devil horns for his costume.
(It is, incidentally, difficult to find a devil costume for a young boy. You have to pillage items meant for the adult women's "sexy devil" costume, of which there are many. Quinn's horns are shiny and seductive.)
I do believe Quinn gets his fears from my husband. I never met a horror movie I didn't like, but my husband has a panic attack if he walks in the room when The Walking Dead is on. Still, we figured that we could do fun Halloween type stuff with our kids—right up until that ill-fated visit to the haunted train at Wheaton Regional Park when our oldest son was 2 years old.
I will never forget the screams that came from my child when that chainsaw wielding guy came running out of the forest. What can I say? We were new to the area and didn't know that Wheaton hosts the scary version of the haunted train. We just assumed that a children's train ride would be appropriate for children.
Come to think of it, that kid stopped playing with trains right around that time.
We have taken a more cautious approach since then, refusing to go to places like Scary Perry, or even the Cabin John not-so-scary version of the haunted train. We're taking no chances with Quinn, a child whose first major fear was of green plastic bowling pin with a goofy, happy face painted on it. (Seriously, you have never heard shrieking so loud as when this bowling pin came out.)
This year, however, Quinn's fear has reached new heights. He is scared of his school's fall festival parade. At first he just wanted to make sure I was there. Then he thought maybe he could skip the parade and come back for the party. Then he started talking about skipping the parade and party and maybe getting a treat elsewhere. Now he wants to avoid school all day.
By next year, I'm imagining us hiding in the basement with for the last week of October. The problem is that all of my kids, including Quinn, love Halloween—or at least the candy part of Halloween.
So, what is our solution? As always, I keep my eye out for anything that I think might set Quinn off. I'm going to show up at school for the Halloween parade and party and try to walk him through it, with the knowledge that we may have to cut and run at any moment. Then, when we trick or treat, I plan to act as a visual bodyguard, walking ten paces in front of Quinn, blocking any well-meaning but terrifying kids.
Also, if you live on our block, it would be great if you could make sure to not answer the door on Wednesday wearing a scary mask or while you are wielding a chainsaw.
Jean, a.k.a. Stimey, writes a personal blog at Stimeyland; an autism-events website for Montgomery County, Maryland, at AutMont; and a column called Autism Unexpected in the Washington Times Communities. You can find her on Twitter as @Stimey.