Halloween & Children’s Bereavement
On the night of October 31, millions of youngsters will dress up in a wide variety of costumes with the hopes and dreams of collecting mounds of tasty treats on their annual pilgrimage of trick or treating in their neighborhoods or at special events in their communities. It’s Halloween, a thrilling mix of fun, adventure, and mystery for children.
This exciting time of transforming into favorite characters and heading out into the night evokes a sense of playful adventure. As children walk along dark streets, eagerly anticipating treats, there is an added dimension of fear to the fun. Eerie decorations, haunted houses, bats, spiders, black cats, and scary jack-o-lanterns create a subtle aura of fear.
It’s a thrill, similar to what we experience on a wild roller coaster or watching a scary movie. Being spooked in a safe environment helps develop courage and resilience in children, and teaches them to confront fears in a controlled, exhilarating setting.
But not all Halloween fear is fun for children. Some of the pranks and frightening themes, including death, could be triggers for children, especially those who are experiencing grief.
And it’s probably more children than you realize. Statistics tell us that in the US by the time a child turns 18, 1 in 12 will lose a parent or sibling, and 90% will experience the death of a close family member or friend. Those are numbers that indicate that almost every child has or will experience loss before adulthood. It can be a frightening time for many of them.
Children often fear death for several reasons. Death is an abstract concept that young minds find difficult to grasp. The thought of it can leads to fear and anxiety. If the loss is a close family member, it can shake their physical and emotional security. They may ask questions such as who will take care of me? What is going to happen to our family? Will someone else die?
As we approach November and observe Children’s Grief Awareness month, the fear of death and the needs of grieving children and teens comes to the forefront of discussion and awareness.
According to the Coalition to Support Grieving Students, it is helpful to choose Halloween activities that help bereaved children avoid triggers. Costumes of super heroes rather than spooky characters, and avoiding explicitly scary or gory themed events and attractions are helpful. Also, check in with a child who has suffered loss just to see how they are doing or if specific Halloween celebrations are troubling.
Overall, being sensitive and aware to what a grieving child may be going through is good practice. If you would like some good resources on children and grief, please visit the Coalition to Support Grieving Students at www.GrievingStudents.org or the National Alliance for Children’s Grief at www.nacg.org.
Here’s to a safe and fun Halloween!