I don’t mean to sound like boring old woman, but I’m not a big fan of Halloween. In fact I would go as far as to say I actively dislike the celebration of Halloween. I have two reasons why, so bear with me as I try to explain my Clinical Psychologist’s perspective on the whole thing.
Both at Headspace Guildford and in my NHS role I see a significant proportion of children struggling with anxiety. And very often their biggest fears are about monsters, or baddies breaking in or horrible things happening to them or people they love. So, with this as my context, I struggle to see why we should celebrate everything that is scary and specifically set out to scare people or why we would encourage children to do the same thing. Perhaps it’s because we find these things scary that we have a festival about it, because unconsciously we’re trying to exert our power over things we don’t understand or don’t want to believe in. I don’t know. But what I do know is there is enough fear in the world without us creating more.
My other reason moves from ‘feelings’ to ‘behaviour’ – something we often look at in therapy. It confuses me as to why we expect children to behave well, but on one night a year encourage them to hold people (sometimes complete strangers) to ransom with ‘trick or treat’ and we set them up to expect others to give them sweets. There’s no parenting manual in the world which would endorse that. It is confusing enough to be a child and work out what is expected of you, what you’re supposed to do in any given situation and why the adults are behaving in the way that they do. They’ve got to manage not being rude to others even though adults are very often rude to children (have you noticed that we’ll talk to children in a way we wouldn’t talk to another adult). So then, when we encourage them to knock on other people’s doors and demand they be given treats, they could be forgiven for not knowing what to make of this.
Now, I realise it’s all just a bit of fun and children can enjoy it and understand it’s just for one night – I’m not trying to be a kill joy. I just think there are better ways to have fun and they don’t have to involve fear and ultimatums.
On the other hand, one thing I think we could be doing more of, which is also in-line with the season, is remembering people we know who died. 2nd November is apparently All Souls Day. We don’t talk enough about people who have died and how we miss them and the impact they had on our lives. And when we don’t talk about this stuff, it doesn’t make it go away. Instead it just means we struggle with it alone. And that’s true for children as much as it is for adults. It’s not easy. We often avoid these conversations because we don’t know what to say or we fear upsetting people (interesting that we’re not so bothered about this when in Halloween costume- go figure!). But we could be doing more talking and remembering and I think our collective mental health would be the better for it.