When it comes to Halloween and little kids, there’s a fine balance between fun and fright. Until the early elementary school years, most children can’t differentiate between fantasy and reality, and even most well-meaning parents can inadvertently scare the merriment out of Halloween. Learn how to maximize the fun and minimize the fright this season.
To learn how to navigate this holiday with little ones, I reached out to Larry Kirchner, owner and operator of the world's most extensive data base of professional haunted attractions; Hauntworld.com.
I asked him some frightfully important Halloween questions, and here’s what he had to say.
Larry, when it comes to haunted houses, what age are haunted houses really geared towards? How young is too young?
Parents should use their own best judgment when deciding if a child should visit a haunted house. Most haunted attractions do not have an age limit or requirement, though owners do encourage parents to chaperone any children under the age of 10. In many cases, the special effects used in modern haunted houses are no more scary than what a child may have already seen in the media, video games and movies. However, as is the case with any theme park, parents should decide whether or not their child is ready to visit a haunted house based on the individual child’s maturity level.
What’s your best advice for parents who bring their kids to a haunted house, but once they’re inside, it’s clear the kids weren’t quite ready for the experience? Is there a universal sign for help or “let me out” in the industry?
It's important for parents to speak with their children prior to entering the haunted house to make sure kids clearly understand that the haunted house is an attraction, and that it is not real. Parents can remind their children that the scary people are just actors and the special effects are the same as those used in a Hollywood movie.
Every haunted attraction has clearly marked exit signs, but before entering, be sure to speak with attraction employees to locate the exits and discover if it's possible to leave the attraction before the tour has ended.
How can parents have fun with Halloween, but at the same time avoid all things guts and gory?
There are many Halloween attractions that don't include horror and haunted mansions. Today, most pumpkin patches feature big events for the whole family, and seasonal activities include corn mazes, hayrides, face painting and all sorts of additional Halloween fun. Many of the best can be found at www.halloweenattractions.com.
What are some age-appropriate Halloween activities that would be appropriate for the younger set? Say toddlers and preschoolers?
Pumpkin patches have become huge for younger children and now include everything from Dino Digs, zip lines, hayrides, corn mazes and many other activities.
What tips can you share with parents to help them and their kids have a safe Halloween?
Parents and children must take trick-or-treating safety seriously. Some top tips that Hauntworld.com offers include:
1. Prepare ahead of time: Bring water or Gatorade so kids don't become dehydrated. Eat before you trick-or-treat and have everyone go to the bathroom. Adults should be prepared to accompany children the entire time.
2. Keep costumes safe: To avoid tripping, have kids wear costumes that don’t drag on the ground. Wear shoes that are comfortable and easy to walk in for a long night of trick-or-treating. Make sure that any masks have clear eyeholes and breathing holes. Double check that children they can see and breathe properly before wearing the masks at night. If your kids bring props such as a knives or swords, be sure they are flexible and cannot hurt anyone. Make sure that any costume you buy is flame retardant. Remember, jack-o-lanterns are often lit with burning candles!
3. Bring plenty of light: Parents should bring flashlights and have each child wear a different colored glow necklace or bracelet while trick-or-treating. This helps identify where each child is at all times.
4. Pay attention to your surroundings: Avoid the streets and stay on sidewalks. If you plan to take children trick-or-treating in an unfamiliar neighborhood, remember where you parked the car.
5. Do not approach unfriendly houses: Stay away from homes without lights on, or houses with barking animals or warning signs.
6. Check the candy: Bring home the haul, inspect the candy to make sure wrappers are sealed properly, and let the kids eat every last bite!