by: Phaea Crede
While there absolutely are some Halloween decorations that go too far when it comes to graphic gore, I love décor that walks the razor edge between just "scary" and "gloriously gross."
Halloween is the one time of year that children are encouraged to break the rules. Instead of the normal bath-and-books routine, they’re allowed to play outside in the streets of their neighborhood long after bedtime. Instead of being polite, they get to transform into animals, heroes, and monsters. Instead of avoiding strangers, they can march right onto their porches, shamelessly ring the doorbell, and rudely demand candy. Literally, our kids get to take candy from strangers. And eating too many sweets? That’s not just tolerated; it’s a must.
Halloween is a night for kids to run wild – in a totally safe and protected way.
Fear, in its most basic form, is an emotion that keep humans alive. When something scares us, our deep-down lizard brains scream out, “run!” or, “fight!” This “threat response system,” Margee Kerr Ph. D. says in her article "Why We Love to Be Scared," “…triggers a chemical cascade meant to help us survive: adrenaline, endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, among others, flood our bodies and brains during (and for a while after) a scary situation.”
Interestingly, a lot of these chemicals are also present when humans feel joy and excitement. It’s exhilarating to be scared! But only if we know in our hearts (and lizard brains) that we are totally and completely safe. Over-the-top Halloween displays – especially those that don’t hold back on the scares – are the perfect way to experience the thrill of fear with mom ready at any second to whisk us away if need be.
In polite society, reveling in blood, guts, and gore is seriously frowned upon (thank goodness). But we humans are also fascinated by it. Gruesome Halloween decorations give us permission to safely explore that fascination. Obviously fake but disturbingly gory lawn scenes allow adults and children alike to honor our naturally inquisitive nature: “Oh, THAT’S what happens when you decapitate someone. Huh.”
But the freaky and scientifically accurate “dude being electrocuted” diorama the neighbor throws up every year also gives us the chance to tap into a delicious adrenaline rush while patting ourselves on the back for being brave enough to face something really, really scary. Maybe standing up to extreme Halloween décor is good for a kid’s self-esteem!
Thinking back to myself as a tween – a truly frightening age for any kid – helping to create gory and bloody decorations was extremely therapeutic. Just being a young girl scared the crap out of me on a daily basis, so hanging a bloody leg or two on the front porch seemed tame in comparison, not to mention hilarious. Life was scary in a vague, uncomfortable way. A bloody leg was scary in a direct bone-jutting-out-in-your-face way. A bloody leg gave me something to hang on to, a chance to playfully scream while getting some real pent up screams out. It worked because I knew I was safe.
I’ve noticed that my tiny children love to scream, too. In play-fear or excitement, screaming feels good. I’m constantly telling my son and daughter to stop screaming or the neighbors will call the police. On Halloween, thank goodness, my kids can make all the noise they want and not only will our neighbors not call the cops, they’ll encourage the screams with their lawn full of gory, blood-soaked decorations. Go ahead, kids! Scream as loud and long as you want to!
On the flip side, when a child is freaked out by the bloody murder scene next door, we as parents have a great opportunity to show that we honor their feelings of fear, which we know are designed to be life-saving. “Yes, Timmy,” we can say, “I hear that you are scared of the fake person whose intestines are splayed all over the Flibertson/Malick’s yard. And that is totally and completely a valid way to feel. In fact, I feel the same way. Now let’s hug and go get some cookies.”
That’s what I call a bloody good time.
by: Julia Pelly
Earlier this week, as I took an evening stroll with my preschooler, we chatted about his day. He talked about playing with trains during his time in the early class at school, how he helped a friend go down the slide on the playground, and how he hoped we could have a Popsicle after dinner. And then, as his hand clasped mine and his little eyes peaked upwards, his tiny voice asked, "Mommy, how do heads get off bodies? And why do they hang in trees?"
He was, of course, referencing the plastic, bodiless heads hanging from my neighbor’s oak trees. Though his eyes were trained upward on the swinging heads mine quickly found the amputated and bloody arms and legs scattered across the lawn, and headless bodies covered in blood tucked behind the newly raised gravestones.
As I shooed my son quickly away from the lawn in question, explaining that the heads in the trees weren’t real, I silently cursed the decorating neighbors and wondered why they couldn’t simply keep their Halloween decor PG.
I’ve always loved Halloween. As a kid I thought about my costume all year, planning and changing my mind again and again as I looked forward to the thrill of trick-or-treating. As a teenager and in college I scoped out haunted houses and haunted hikes in the woods (the scarier and gorier the better!) and headed to bonfires or parties on the big night.
And now, in parenthood, I look forward to the thrill of letting my little boy choose a costume (a kitty cat this year) and experience the door-to-door joy of gathering more candy and treats that he’ll ever possibly be able to eat.
I also love watching his anticipation and excitement build as the pumpkin patches pop up across town and the decorations appear in front yards. The decorations I’m referring to include scarecrows and jack-o-lanterns, hay bales and miniature ghosts. I'm not talking about the goriest of displays that seem to be common in today’s suburban neighborhoods. While it may make me the lamest mom on the block, I think displaying something scary and gory in a family neighborhood is simply inconsiderate.
I understand that Halloween is supposed to be scary, that scaring and getting scared is part of the thrill, but a family neighborhood simply isn’t the place for the scariest or goriest decorations. When gore is on display in a neighborhood it can’t be avoided. Little ones driving to preschool or walking or biking in the evening must pass these displays and feel the feelings they inspire.
There’s a time and place for everything and if chopped up bodies and bloodied zombies are part of your Halloween fun, there are all kinds of places (preschooler-free zones) where you can indulge in your terrifying fun. Haunted houses, warped trails, and escape rooms all offer scary thrills without passing the fear on to little ones.
The thing about preschoolers is that they’re just figuring out the world and very often can’t tell reality from fantasy. They wonderfully believe in fairies and Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny and would never think to question you when you tell them that their stuffed animals play together when they go to school.
Most parents would never let their little ones watch “The Shining.” It's a terrifying movie and adults know their little one won’t understand that it’s not real. But when forced to walk next to a gory display the same feelings are being evoked for the child and telling them that it’s not real won't erase their big feelings.
While scary is a big part of Halloween, fun should be a bigger part. When little ones are scared simply walking around their neighborhood, the fun is lost.
Even if a preschooler isn’t inherently scared by a gory display, exposure to violence (real or plastic) desensitizes them and makes the blood and gore seem normal. It also makes them more likely to act out what they see. While a bad Halloween display won’t turn your tot into a serial killer, continued exposure may make them more likely to pretend to chop off their friend’s arms or legs in a very ungentle manner.
So, this season, as you pull out the decorations and dust off the candy bowl I ask, beg, and plead for you to think of the preschoolers before you adorn your lawn with decorations better fit for a haunted mansion. Keep it light, keep it fun, and don’t ruin a little kid's Halloween with a gory display.