The Family Project: Haunted house scary, not traumatic
Q. My 4-year-old loves scary Halloween displays in stores, so I took him to a haunted house that I thought was kid-friendly. It wasn’t. I covered his eyes and we ran out as soon as we could. He told me he saw horrible things. I tried to tell him it was all fake. Did I scar him for life?
“No, you have not scarred you child for life,” panelist Mike Ramsey said. He said the mother may be experiencing guilt feelings for having made a decision that resulted in an emotional reaction from her child. “Was it scary for the four-year-old?” Ramsey asked. “Yes, but not traumatic.”
Panelist Denise Continenza followed up by explaining that the exposure to the haunted house was an isolated incident and the child will be OK. “Trauma usually occurs with repeated exposure to something.”
“Kids look to their parents’ reactions,” Ramsey said, adding, “If it was one of fear or terror that she brought her son into the haunted house, that might have fed into the child’s reaction, as well.”
“It is a serious situation, and something the parents can deal with if the child brings it up, but nothing that one needs to make an appointment about with a counselor,” panelist Chad Stefanyak said, noting, “It does open the door for a conversation the parent needs to have with the four-year old about how to deal with something that scares him both at the time and after.”
“If something scares the child,” panelist Erica Carter said, “assure him that he can go to an adult and talk about it and work through it.”
“The parent did the right thing in telling the child that what he saw was all fake,” Ramsey said and suggested, “She could also tell him that the house was designed to be scary, and she could also talk about why we have Halloween masks and haunted houses and roller coasters. Dressing up at Halloween or playing cops and robbers is therapeutic. It provides some control over scary things.”
“The parent should reassure her son that It is sometimes fun to be scared,” panelist Pam Wallace said, “but it is a controlled thing. You aren’t in any real danger.”
This week’s team of parenting experts are: Pam Wallace, program coordinator, Project Child, a program of Valley Youth House; Mike Ramsey, program supervisor, Valley Youth House; Chad Stefanyak, school counselor, Denise Continenza, extension educator; Erin Stalsitz, Lehigh Children & Youth, and Erica Carter, functional family therapy therapist.
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The Family Project is a collaboration of the Lehigh Valley Press Focus section and Valley Youth House’s Project Child.
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