Halloween has gradually built in resonance in Australia until now it has become part of our yearly schedule; it is new part of the landscape of childhood. The tricky part of this new celebration is that it can form some pretty deep fears in children at an early age. In the days of old, when belief controlled our lives, these fears were probably quite useful in cultures, keeping adults steeped in fears of monsters and myth to do what they were told. Early childhood scarring was probably seen as useful and a right of passage to keep you on the right/safe path. Today however, it doesn’t serve any purpose beyond setting some deep issues and fears that can hound us throughout our life, that feel irrational and often almost impossible to pin down to a single event. So, let’s think carefully about Halloween and not go down this path. Our staff prepare for it from a developmental perspective, because these considerations are key to how a child will handle Halloween traditions.
Sensory Tier – What my sense tell me is real it real!
Before a child has language, they formulate their experience in the world through sensory contact. What this means practically is that as an individual, the child is using their external senses ( touch taste, sight etc) and their internal senses ( heart rate, chemicals like adrenalin, breath etc ) to understand what is going on around them. The sensory collective/group is these experiences shared with others, it is where we scream together, laugh and smile when someone else does, yawn in response and mirror noises and actions of others. This sensory skill set stays with us for life and is a really important part of our development. For a person in this tier, Halloween may not have much impact, unless the collective responds – everyone is yelling so you yell. Everyone seems scared, so you show scared. Our enrolled students are no longer in this stage, but many of them have some stuck sensory memories from this point in their development, where they haven’t resolved sensory processing issues and when confronted with sudden and new experiences such as those that suddenly appear at Halloween, it can be really confronting. For these students, we need to ensure that we give them warning, explain what will be happening and expose them to the imagery before they are inundated with them. Please consider reading up on sensory support for Halloween with sites such as Understood. However, for many children, it is the shift into the next stage that causes the greatest challenge because it is hard to know real from not real!
Concrete Tier – What are the objects and actions we must do?!
When our children move into a period of language use ( the Concrete Tier ) they are naming the world around them and linking objects together into groups and patterns. In the Concrete tier the world of imagination and the “not real” is not something they can divine easily, they are still trying to identify and name the world around them. So some of the specific considerations for Halloween include:
What is “not real”? – Egocentric children, such as the Big Cats and Kestrels Base camp span, are still completely in world where identifying the real world around them is still in development, they often can’t tell the difference! When an Egocentric child sees something in the world around them they will assume it is real and it doesn’t matter how much you tell them to not be afraid, their bodies are telling them to be so. “I can see it…so it must exist!” We don’t allow masks at BIS for this reason, our Ego Centric students will believe it is real. We are equally concerned about gore and pretend maiming, our early concrete tier students will assume these injuries are real and they will hold it in their memory. Please remember that they have plenty of time to experience these scary parts of Halloween, let them gain that exposure when they are ready for it.
Reasoned fear…what if that really happens?? – Our Late Rule Oriented and Rule Conformist students are shifting into a world of reason and logic, where “it was the Tooth Fairy” begins to get questioned through their own observations. This means that for sensitive students, with second person perspective, the fears of Halloween are around imagining what it would be like “if” it happened for real. What would happen IF there were Zombies? “Arghhh, that looks so real, I can almost feel it!” What would happen IF magic is real? So many fantasy stories are written for this developmental stage around this reasoning model, life is normal and then there is a knock at the door and you find out that secretly you are…( insert mystical or fantasy identity ). The “ifs” can keep you awake at night!
Scary experiences in a group, such as Trick or Treating – It is only in the late Rule Oriented Stages ( Penguins ) that children/people start to be able to identify with the actions in a collective without getting lost in the sensory response; they can pause and consider what is actually going on rather than just joining in the screaming at the ghost noises! Prior to that stage, a child will still just lose all reason in response to a sudden sensory stimulus from those around them and they will just react without thinking; screaming, running, fleeing. They get lost in the sensory terror that is happening around them. To help them with this, please consider warning them about what is about to happen and be their collective in the moment and stay calm. If you are Trick or Treating, you hold their hand and be the voice in their ear rather than the hysterical other children around them. They need you to be the adult. If your child is in the Otters or Dolphins Base camp and they don’t have sensory issues, you can let them explore the Concrete collective, they will be looking at what others are doing and base their responses more on those as the thinking and reasoning begins to take over.
Collective Copying – At late Rule Conformist, we are looking at children who want to fit in and be part of the group more than anything else, they desperately want costumes like everyone else and to Trick or Treat, like everyone else does. At this stage in a child’s development it is important to hold two positions as the parent:
- “I can see you as an individual, if you could choose what to wear or do without everyone else looking at you, what would you wear/do” AND
- “I can see how important it is for you to fit with the group, what are they all doing? Have you asked them? Let’s check. Is there something that you can do that would help you fit in with what they are doing as well as make you feel comfortable as your own person?”
Of course, they may not be able to do both the fitting and individuating, and that is where we adults get to help them feel safe in their collectives of both home and school/community. They have the rest of their life to make a stand about what they want, as long as they feel safe having a strong voice at home you can continue to help them find it in the group. If you refuse to help them with their “fitting in” need, you may find they stop sharing their vulnerable self with you. Find a middle ground that supports them and feels sustainable for you as the parent.
Although there is lots to consider, Halloween is a fabulous time of year and well worth exploring together. Just remember to take it slowly and introduce the concepts and experiences as needed by your child’s development, not just when you are ready for them. The ghost stories can wait!