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Frights and Delights: A Psychiatrist's Guide to a Safe Halloween

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While it can be fun for adults to engage in adrenaline rushing activities such as spooky costumes, eerie movies and haunted houses, it’s important for parents to think about what is both appropriate and emotionally safe for children. It’s just as important to protect your child’s emotional health as it is to protect their physical health this Halloween.

According to Dr. Seleena Shrestha, child psychiatrist from SIU School of Medicine, exposing children to activities, such as scary movies and haunted houses, can lead to some haunting consequences if not done cautiously and at the proper age. She discusses steps that parents can take to ensure their children not only have an exciting Halloween, but also an emotionally safe one:

Q: What psychological side effects that can come from exposing a child to a scary movie, haunted house, etc. at too early of an age?
A: Every child is different, and especially if a child already struggles with anxiety disorder and PTSD, exposing them to a scary situation can precipitate or perpetuate his/her condition. As long as the event is geared towards having fun and parents are supervising, celebrating Halloween can be a fun event. If the intention of generating a fearful emotion is not malicious, it is healthy. Parents should recognize their child’s emotions, and comfort them as needed.  It is important for parents to check movie ratings. If a parent is unsure about an activity or movie, it is better to avoid. Remember that there will always be next year to reconsider, when the child’s brain will be 1 year more mature.

Q: For any parent who has a child who has been exposed to a scary movie/haunted house, etc. and he/she is not handling it well, what recommendations do you have for parents to handle this situation?
A:  Parents should not make fun of them.  Remember to validate their feelings and emotions, while being comforting and caring. Reassure them that they are safe and provide a safe environment.

Q: What other steps can parents take to ensure that their children have a happy, safe and healthy Halloween?
A:  There are several steps that parents can take including:
    - Letting their children dress in their choice of costume, as long as it is appropriate
    - Limiting candies and running around during trick or treating
    - Checking "Halloween Health and Safety Tips" published by the CDC
    - Always being available to comfort their children and being aware of their emotions

This Halloween, remember that each child is different and can react to fear in their own way.  Proper exposure, along with talking to your child and watching for signs of anxiety, can ensure that your little one has an emotionally happy Halloween.

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