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Experts offer the following tips for helping children deal with Halloween:
•Keep the age of the child in mind when selecting Halloween activities. Avoid haunted houses unless it offers age-appropriate activities.
•Keep scary stuff in moderation. If decorating, make sure to have nonscary items mixed in with the scary.
•Make sure to talk to your child about what scares them.
•Ask friends and strangers to take off masks to show children that it really is a person under the costume.
•Limit preschoolers to 30 minutes or less of activities, including trick-or-treating and only during daylight hours.
Sources: Stephen Jarrell of Headwaters Counseling, Jennifer Boen with SCAN,
and Theresa Kruczek,
counseling educator
at Ball State University
Illustration by Gregg Bender | The Journal Gazette

Trick not always treat

Gauge if kids ready for Halloween scares, experts say

Halloween has turned into a scare affair. Walk down any store aisle and you'll find costumes and decorations that can turn any home into a house of horrors.

Americans apparently love to be scared, which has helped turn the fall holiday into a big business. According to the National Retail Federation, the average person will shell out about $80 on decorations, costumes and candy and total Halloween spending is expected to reach $8 billion this year.

All of this scary business can be difficult for children, who may have trouble figuring out what is make-believe and what's not.

Experts say every child is different, but parents and adults have a responsibility to determine how much is too much and are the best judge of their child's abilities.

"What scared them last year may not be scary this year," says Stephen Jarrell, executive director of Headwaters Counseling, a division of Family and Children's Services.

But moderation is important when dealing with children.

"If you are going to have something scary, that's fine," Jarrell says, "but also have something that's not so foreboding."

Parents should think about the age of the child, says Jennifer Boen, spokeswoman for local nonprofit child abuse and neglect program SCAN. She suggests centering more on fun at lower ages and "stay away from the scary side," including costumes. Boen says such things can create nightmares.

Boen says there are many events in the community that are not scary and recommends that "parents seek out those opportunities."

Jarrell says adults need to be aware of the gore but realize that even nongory things, such as clowns, can be scary to a child.

Adults need to value a child's opinions and concerns, Jarrell says. It's important to have children be apprehensive of such scary things, he says.

He says keeping an open line of communication is important, talking to them and letting them know it's just a mask and not real. However, if you can't reason with them, then it's better if you try to keep them away from such items, Jarrell says.

"We like to get scared," Jarrell says. But, he says, just because a child is allowed to go into a haunted house, doesn't mean they should go in there.