Previously published on Associated Content / Yahoo! Voices and updated for Help for Single Parents
I don't mean to spook you with this horrifying observation, but costumes, masks, and scary movies sometimes frighten babies and young children.
When you look at it from the baby's point of view you can understand why. Creepy crawlers are everywhere! Every time the doorbell rings, baby sees a ghost or a goblin, a Freddy or a Jason, or some other gruesome character, blood dripping from its orifices, mumbling, "Trick or Treat!" Instead of slamming the door in their faces, Mommy and Daddy give these little gremlins something - that once belonged to the baby.
Soon the once calm infant becomes inconsolable and disintegrates into hysterical panic attacks. Daddy feels helpless. Mummy begins to feel like a soggy pumpkin. Drenched in baby's tears, they rock and comfort their crying child, and wonder how to calm him down. And they haven't even begun dressing him in his costume. Reassuring terrified little ones has always been stressful.
Well, not anymore. October, home of Halloween, is a great treat of an opportunity for you to discuss with your children tricks that cause them fear.
Here is how to desensitize your little goblins so scary things will seem less frightening to them. To help them discover something about the world in which they live - a world that, like little trick-or-treaters, is masked in deception - here is the skeleton for teaching the perception of deception:
THE PERSONALITY OF HATS
Hopefully it won't take an axe for you to open your mind. Buried deep within your brain is your imagination. You must use it to treat the potions that fall from the fountain of fear in your children's minds. Start first by morphing paper into hats of various shapes and sizes to illustrate the effect of funny (example: clown) or scary (example: devil) or funny scary (evil clown). If you have other hats in the home, try them on as well.
Change your character with each hat you don. Act goofy with one. Be oh so prim and proper with another. In other words, assign each hat a personality. Then remove the hats and place them on your children's heads. Encourage them to vamp (act) the way the hats suggest.
Once the hats are ready for the graveyard, use one hat to cover your face. Voila! You've just made the transition from hats to masks. What a wizard you are!
THE ART OF MASKING
Masks are a great way to introduce children to the cauldron of fear. Young children easily grasp the concept of a mask when they see you put one on and take it off in front of them. As you did with the hats, create your own paper-cut masks. Allow your children to be part of the creation process. Put the masks on yourself while your children are watching. Allow them to put masks on themselves too.
For babies, however, masks can be frightening - on or off. Instead of covering your face with them, leave the masks within reach and let your babies discover them on their own. They might hesitantly examine the masks or they may be too frightened to pick them up. More than likely, though, they will want to eat them.
Never force masks on children or babies. Even when they find them and examine them, don't suddenly put them on your face. Move slowly and watch carefully. When your baby registers fear, stop. Eventually younger children or babies will be giggling as they put on and remove their own masks.
CLOWNING AROUND WITH BLOOD MAKEUP
Makeup also adds to the deception. Show your children the effect makeup has on a body or face and discuss - and make -- fake blood to enhance your credibility.
Wikihow.com offers several versions for making blood, both edible and non-edible. I think the edible versions have more to do with protecting babies who put everything in their mouths than they do with wikihow's desire to create vampires out of its readers.
Play Monster and pretend to scare each other as you shape your body into gelatinous blobs. Sorry, I went a little batty just then. What I meant to say was, move your body in distorted ways and act silly so your children can see the effect makeup has on the character you just created.
In addition to discussing fears associated with costumes and makeup, teach children the concept of deception with a demonstration of sound. Music with deep reverberating tones deepens the element of fear (think about the music in the movie, "Jaws" - try watching it with the sound turned off).
When my children were young, they were terrified of, but creepily excited about, scary movies. I tried to explain to them that what was scaring them was not necessarily only what they were seeing, but also what they were hearing. I showed them scenes with the sound on.
I then turned off the sound while my children watched frightened actors fumble their way through darkness - in silence. Lack of sound made for a much different movie.
Throw a blanket around your shoulders or over your head to use as a cape. Roar like a lion, growl like a bear, make screeching noises and howling noises, and get the kids to pretend they're lions and tigers and bears. Oh my!
What really helped me disentangle fear's stranglehold over my children was the videotape, "The Making of Michael Jackson's Thriller," starring Rick Baker and Michael Jackson and directed by John Landis. That movie was an excellent tool for explaining the process of making scary movies.
You probably will not find a 60-minute DVD anywhere - I don't even know if any were made, but VHS tapes are still available for purchase. The video can run for as much as $46+, with used copies available in the $17 range.
Halloween can and should be fun and exciting. And while you attempt to alleviate your children's fears, remain aware of genuine justifiable fear. Because more frightening than Halloween costumes are masks of deception worn by trolls parading as humans. Beware of them. Protect your children from them. What kids (and sometimes their parents) don't realize is that not every monster arises from a coffin; he sometimes lives down the street or sleeps in the bedroom down the hall.
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