A lot of the books I buy my son are recommendations from Suburban Trends children’s book columnist Richard Gawel. In a recent column, he recommended Matthew McElligott’s “Even Monsters Need Haircuts.” So I bought it.
I wanted my 4-year-old son, Owen, to experience some of the thrill of Halloween, but I didn’t want to scare the socks off of him.
“Do you know why people like Halloween?” I asked him just before bedtime.
“No, I don’t,” he said, flatly.
“Because scary can be fun,” I said, and then quickly thrusting into his little, round face, I yelled, “BOO!”
A flurry of laughs filled the room.
“Wasn’t that fun?” I asked.
“That is why people like scary things on Halloween.”
I opened his new book as he huddled against me.
It started with a bat at the window on a moonlit night. We turned the pages slowly. I liked that the book cautioned kids never to leave the house alone as the main character (a little boy) crossed a field with the bat.
The boy was heading to his father’s barber shop after hours, making his mission seem clandestine.
He opened the shop and a frightful looking clientele arrived. On each page he cut a different monster’s hair.
I had no trouble explaining the various monster traits to Owen. Single and multiple eyes, multiple heads, green fur, spiky fur, a mummy, a skeleton—we were sailing smoothly.
And then it happened, a monster holding his own head in his hands!
I could see the shock of it in Owen’s wide eyes.
And with that, he was done with story time, didn’t even ask for his usual second story. He removed his socks and climbed into his racecar bed.
I did my best to explain away the visual gag. “Surprise is also fun, Owen like saying ‘boo.’ Things are fun when you don’t expect them,” I said.
He didn’t seem scared, maybe contemplative, I thought, as mommy came in to finish his bedtime routine with a song.
The next morning as he came around the corner into the kitchen for breakfast, he had his hands around his neck – holding his head on!
So what do you do if you inadvertently scare your kid?
First off, don’t make light of the fear and don’t laugh or smile, advises babycenter.com. That would seem like you were making light of their feelings.
According to the babycenter article, “What you can do to ease your toddler’s fears,” the best approach is to empathize. Let them know that it’s OK to be afraid. Fear helps us deal with new experiences and keeps us out of harm’s way.
After empathy, an explanation can go a long way. The site offers an example of a simple explanation for a child who is scared of the bathtub drain, “Water and bubbles can go down the drain, but rubber duckies and children can’t.”
Of course, if there is a more severe problem, like a fear that interferes with your child’s daily activities, you’ll need to talk to a doctor.
Luckily, thus far, my boy has managed to keep his head on straight!