Halloween hang-ups

Halloween hang-ups

Parents must prevent a frightening event from becoming even scarier

By Patti Carmalt-Vener 10/30/2013

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Dear Patti,
Last Halloween our 14-year-old daughter, Haley, and her friend took our younger daughter Farah, 7, trick-or-treating. Unfortunately, it was a bad experience for all the girls, especially Farah.   

Some older teenage boys dressed in frightening costumes surrounded them and started teasing in a way that scared them. The girls ended up walking in a nearby neighborhood with very few porch lights on and, accordingly, very few homes to trick-or-treat at. Farah’s costume was slowing her down and the two older girls kept complaining to her to hurry up. She had a terrible time and refuses to go trick-or-treating this year. 

Should I just let it go and not make her participate? It’s not like a school trip, where she might be learning something, and it’s not like she needs more candy. It’s just that my husband doesn’t want her to become a quitter.

— Dawn

Dear Dawn,
Rather than offer her an elaborate costume, give her a comfortable and simple but beautiful one, like a crown and a pretty shawl to wear as a princess. Make sure you accompany her this time and maybe only take her on your block to a few neighbors that know what happened last year and are on board to give her a happy experience. You could also consider taking her to a mall, where she might feel safer, or take her to businesses or stores she normally goes into with you. Maybe she could take along a good friend; do whatever supports her to feel safe and have a good time. 

If she still resists, cut trick-or-treating down to one or two houses and let it go at that. You would still be teaching her to face her fears so as not to miss out on positive opportunities. An alternative to trick-or-treating would be to have a small Halloween party a few days before and then have her help hand out candy at your house on Halloween night. This way she may not be facing her fears about trick-or-treating head-on, but she would learn how to celebrate, participate and have fun in spite of last year’s bad memories. 

Dear Patti,
I’m the mother of two sons, ages 11 and 8. Gavin, my oldest, found an old devil costume at a garage sale and insists on wearing it Halloween night. I have certain religious beliefs and am not only uncomfortable with him going out dressed as a devil but also feel it’s not good modeling for his younger brother. My husband thinks I’m overreacting and that it’s OK because Gavin innocently found a costume he likes and isn’t purposely trying to rebel against me or my religious views.  
I can’t help it. I’m uncomfortable with the whole idea.  

— Brianna

Dear Brianna,
I appreciate you trying to be understanding of Gavin’s feelings, listening to your husband’s opinion and being flexible enough to ask for mine as well. If this is a personal belief that’s important to you, I see no reason not to give in. There’s nothing in this boundary that I can see that would be psychologically damaging to Gavin since he’s allowed to go out and celebrate Halloween with his friends, just not in a costume that’s offensive to your beliefs. Maybe you could ask what Gavin especially likes about this costume and have it made into a cool action figure. If not, let him know that you appreciate his respecting your wishes and help find him another costume he likes.

Lastly, make sure that your husband not supporting you on this issue isn’t an example of some other resentment. Does he ever complain that your religious practices are too restrictive or imposing on the rest of the family? If so, it’s important to have a serious discussion. Listen to each other’s viewpoint with empathy and with the goal to be closer to each other as well as become more united as parents.
Happy Halloween!  

Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email pcarmalt@aol.com. Visit her Web site, patticarmalt-vener.com.

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