Halloween is just around the corner, and I am both looking forward to it and dreading it. You see, my children are all fairly sensitive. We are pretty strict about what they can and cannot watch on television, and so they haven’t been exposed to very many scary images. They also can get overwhelmed by loud noises, big crowds, and new experiences.
Halloween can be a sensory overload for the sensitive child.
To top that off, our culture is now glorifying the frightening. I remember Halloween decorations when I was a child–a few jack-o-lanterns and some paper bats. Now there are front yards that look like scenes from The Walking Dead.
So, what can you do?
There are many Orthodox Christian perspectives on Halloween.
-Many families and churches choose to abstain from the holiday altogether, saying that it is evil. Sylvia at Adventures of an Orthodox Mom has a very well-written post from this perspective (Should Orthodox Christians Participate in Halloween?)
-Others choose to offer alternatives to Halloween–think Harvest festivals and church parties–that still celebrate the season and offer children a chance to dress up in tame costumes.
-Finally, there are those who allow their children to participate in trick-or-treating and parties, as long as their costumes don’t violate the faith.
So, what should you do? What is best for your family? As with most controversial topics, the best advice is to talk with your priest or spiritual father.
Regardless of your level of participation (or non-participation) in Halloween, your children may be exposed to images that frighten them at this time of the year. How do you handle that?
What To Do When Your Child is Scared
1. Remind Them That God is Bigger
As Orthodox Christians, we don’t deny the existence of evil, of the demonic. However, we do affirm that God is bigger, that Christ has defeated Satan, that death has been trampled down. Around Halloween there are so many previews for scary movies involving demons, ghosts, and the occult. I actually get scared just watching them! If your child happens to see something of this nature (or hear about it at school), calmly but confidently assure them that God is bigger than any evil.
2. Make the Sign of the Cross
Teach your child to make the sign of the cross when they are afraid. This simple physical movement is incredibly powerful. St. Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic said, “The Sign of the Cross has been the most powerful weapon against great temptation from demons, from the early ascetics down to the present day.” Making the sign of the cross reminds us of Christ’s power and authority.
3. Teach a Simple Prayer
Last year my (then) two-year-old daughter became very scared of the dark. She would cry at night when we put her down. However, once I taught her a simple prayer, she instantly calmed and was able to sleep. I told her that whenever she was scared, she should pray, “Lord have mercy, I’m scared.” This acknowledged and validated her fears, while at the same time recognized that God could help her. You can teach your child something similar if they are young. Older children can learn this prayer:
O Lord, You who steadied the hand of Peter as he began to sink on the stormy sea, if you are with me, no one is against me. Grant to me the shield of faith and the mighty armor of the Holy Spirit to protect me and guide me to do Your will. Amen.
4. Remind Them of Their Guardian Angel
Orthodox Christians believe that God sends angels to guard us. In fact, each Divine Liturgy we pray for “An angel of peace, a faithful guide, a guardian of our souls and bodies.” When your child is scared, remind them that their angel is helping them and protecting them. You can pray the Prayer to Your Guardian Angel from A Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians:
O Angel of Christ, holy guardian and protector of my soul and body, forgive me everything wherein I have offended thee every day of my life. And protect me from all influence and temptation of the evil one. May I nevermore anger God by any sin. Pray for me to the Lord, that He may make me worthy of the grace of the All-holy Trinity,and of the Most Blessed Theotokos, and of all the Saints. Amen.
5. Remove and Replace the Frightening Image
I have an incredibly active imagination. In fact, even as an adult, I can’t watch movies that are very scary because my mind will replay the images months and even years later. My children show similar tendencies, so I am trying to guard their minds. However, I can’t protect them from everything.
If children see something scary, try to remove either the object or the child. It could mean avoiding a certain house on your street because of its overly realistic depiction of a graveyard, or turning the television off immediately if a frightening commercial comes on.
Once the image has been removed, replace it with a holy one. Perhaps you go to your Icon Corner to pray. Maybe you place an icon of your child’s saint or guardian angel in their bedroom. Or, you could give the child a prayer rope or icon bracelet to hold.
Whatever your position on Halloween, your children will see and experience things that scare them during their lives. It is our jobs, as parents, to help them learn how to handle those experiences. And, most importantly, it is our jobs to remind them of the powerful God who loves them and holds them in the palm of his hand.
Have your children been scared on Halloween? What have you done to help them?
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