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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

News Center

Trick Or Treating Not Meant For All Kids

LAS CRUCES -- Halloween is supposed to be fun, but if children are too young to go trick or treating, the holiday could turn into a frightening experience, said a New Mexico State University child development and family life specialist.

"Very young children don't know that a real person is behind a mask or underneath a costume. They believe what they see," said Diana DelCampo with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service. "When children 3 years old and under, sometimes 4, see Santa Claus or Mickey Mouse, they just see a big rat or this big guy that doesn't look like anybody else. So, it scares them."

Each kid may act differently, she said. At certain ages, some children like scary stuff, but others do not. At Halloween, parents should pay close attention to children. If kids become afraid, they should be removed from the scary environment.

DelCampo said how long children should go trick or treating and what size group they should go with varies with age. To help parents select suitable Halloween activities, she offers these tips:
Babies and Toddlers (3 and under)

* Keep activities to 20 minutes or less. Trick or treat at two or three houses with one other child.
* Dress toddlers in costumes that are comfortable and in something familiar like a pumpkin, cat or dog. Use nothing on their face. Do not put costumes on kids if they cry.
* Take kids out in the afternoon or before it gets too dark.
* Protect them from costumed trick or treaters who come to the door.

Preschool (3-5)

* Limit activities to about 30 minutes. Allow kids to visit nine to 10 houses in small groups of three or four.
* Take them out before it gets dark. Kids still fear the dark.
* Make costumes simple enough for the child to get in and out of without help. Kids are afraid of masks, so only use makeup on their faces. Dress them in cartoon heroes or other characters that do not scare them.

Elementary (6-9)

* Enjoy longer activities. Allow them to have parties that last for an hour. They also can help decorate.
* Can visit more houses -- one or two blocks in the neighborhood. Allow them to go in groups of 10.
* Like to dress as scary creatures and can make costumes with a little help.

Middle School (10-13)

* Can trick or treat at more houses. Children this age also can have a party afterwards for one to two hours.
* Allow older adolescents to choose activities related to school. A school carnival or even a school party would be appropriate for 12 and older.
* Supervise kids closely so they don't play tricks on people like throwing eggs at houses.

High School (14 and older)

* Can have parties or participate in school activities with adult supervision.
* Can set up haunted houses and make decorations for parties.