When fall comes around, I don't marvel at the changing leaves or bask in the cool breeze, I obsess over Halloween costumes. For some reason I desperately want my kid to be something unexpected. It all started with a two-year-old punk rocker.
We decorate our windows with spooky scenes, watch Beetlejuice and talk about all the witches and ghosts that will be out for candy. I worry about tainted candy and getting hit by cars. I don't worry about how I could be putting life long fear into my mini Edward Scissorhands.
Based on the lack of studies regarding the subject, not many parents are concerned with how deep Halloween fright runs.
In a recent study of six- and seven-year-olds in the Philadelphia area, Penn State psychologist Cindy Dell Clark found that most parents underestimate how terrifying the holiday can be for young kids.
"Child psychologists generally caution parents that the fright of some aspects of Halloween can be too much for the very young, and advise adults to keep a close eye on children and remind them of what is real and what is not.
"Intriguingly, Halloween is a holiday when adults assist children in behaviors taboo and out of bounds," Clark writes in the anthropological journal Ethos. "It is striking that on Halloween, death-related themes are intended as entertainment for the very children whom adults routinely protect."
For a lot of kids, Halloween is the first time they are introduced to death. All the other 364 days of the year parents are trying to shield their kids from images of death, violence and fear. Come Oct. 31st they slather them in fake blood and stick a hatchet in their head.
However, kids as young as six and seven, don't differentiate between real death and and the walking dead they see on the streets.
Clark says: "Children see things on a real plane, as opposed to adults, who are trying to get around real themes like death by treating them as fun."
It is suggested you keep it fun. Kids walk a thin line between real and fantasy. Even though they probably suspect the skeleton is not really walking bones, they need you to reassure them. They need to know that it's okay to be scared, but a mask can't hurt you.
And parents, there have been only two confirmed cases of children being killed by poisoned Halloween candy, and in both cases the children were intentionally murdered by one of their parents.