Halloween can be a spooky time for some children. But, a little good-natured fear might actually be good for them.
Fear helps us learn how to avoid a situation. The emotion is triggered in deeper parts of our brain and regulated by our thinking systems in the front of our brain.
Sometimes we understand what makes us scared, and sometimes we don't. When we — both adults and kids — don't understand why we're afraid, our reactions can be more primal or instinctual. That is, we sometimes unconsciously learn to avoid things because of fear.
Have you ever seen a cat get scared by a shadow? That's an unconscious reaction, and it happens when we don't have the frontal thinking pathways of the brain—our "control balance"—to calm us down.
Now, here's why fear can be good for your kids: It teaches them to avoid things that can cause them harm. If Bobby is afraid of a loud noise, he won't go near it. If he is afraid of cars that are driving fast, he won't cross the street by himself.
As children are exposed to scary things, they begin to better develop the control systems of their brain to regulate that unconscious reaction. They do this by learning to use their thinking system in the front of their brain to balance or work through the emotion.
Let's say that Bobby saw a friend fall of his bike and get hurt, and now Bobby is afraid to ride. Bobby's parents can show him how to ride without falling, and can encourage him to practice riding without falling. Over time, as Bobby rides his bike without falling, his fear will be replaced by the happiness he feels when he rides. In this example, Bobby learned that something that caused him fear wasn't scary once he tried it. This is an excellent coping skill.
Unfortunately, fear can also be bad for kids. If kids experience too much fear or don't feel safe when they experience fear, they won't be able to learn good coping skills. In the example above, if Bobby didn't believe that his parents would help him when he was scared or had trouble, his fear might not go away. Instead, he may simply avoid riding a bike.
That feeling of safety is especially important when kids are younger, as they are limited in their ability to think through their emotions. The feeling of fear is so strong that it gets in the way of their ability to use their thinking balance. And because fear can lead to avoidance, this is the time when kids often begin to develop irrational fears and phobias.
So, how can you help kids learn to balance fear during the Halloween season? Here are some simple tips:
Fear is unavoidable, it's natural, and sometimes it's a good thing. But it's how we cope with it that makes the difference. Kids can use fear to learn to manage emotions and build the front of their brains so that they have a strong thinking balance.