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Halloween: Ease children's fears by putting yourself in their shoes, expert says

Do scary costumes scare your child? Is she nervous about trick-or-treating? Does your tween want to dress too provocatively? Some tips.

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Sarah Lindenfeld Hall

Halloween is just around the corner, but those shrieks might not just come on Halloween night. It may be your child worried about spooky Halloween costumes or your tween wanting to dress like a sexy Strawberry Shortcake. (An aside, why are those sexy childhood character costumes necessary?)

Deborah Best, a child psychology expert and professor of psychology at Wake Forest University, shares these Halloween-survival tips for parents and kid.

"Most children can't distinguish fantasy from reality until they are about four years old, so knocking on a stranger's door in a clown suit can be confusing and scary for younger children," said Best, who has studied developmental psychology for more than 40 years.  

Here's what Best recommends:

1. If scary costumes freak out your child...

Rather than surprising kids younger than five with costumes you like, let them choose. Toddlers especially love trying on familiar items such as their parents' clothes, so a big hat and colorful tie might be all the costume he needs or wants. Talk about his costume, try it on, build it up and let him get familiar with it before it's trick-or-treat time. And if on Halloween night he still doesn't want to dress up, that's OK.

2. If your child is nervous about trick-or-treating...

She's probably just afraid of the unknown. Help ease her fears by trick-or-treating before it gets dark and starting at a neighbor or

friend's home. Seeing familiar faces and how much fun other kids are having might get her in the festive spirit. If not, take your cues from her and head home.

3. If you're afraid Halloween sends mixed signals about religious beliefs ...

Relax. From a child's perspective, Halloween is about dressing up and getting candy, not religious meaning. Rest-assured, dressing like a devil or a monster for one night won't jeopardize your child's belief systems. In fact, dressing like scary characters actually helps children overcome their fears.

4. If your tween or teen wants to dress too provocatively ...

Our culture has over-sexualized growing up, so it's important to start with an honest conversation. Tweens value self-expression as they develop mentally, physically and emotionally, but finding "who they are" makes them vulnerable as well. Talking to your 12-going-on-20-year-old about why she wants to dress like a sexy Strawberry Shortcake, exploring the message it sends and discussing the potential consequences might prompt her to wear leggings under that mini-skirt. If not, calmly and firmly stand your ground until she proposes an outfit that makes you both comfortable.

For more Halloween fall, check our Halloween and fall fun database and stay tuned to Go Ask Mom.

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