Plenty of treats minus the tricks

Fright-free events gaining popularity

October 29, 2006|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,Special to The Sun

Eighth-grader Collin Hoofnagle placed a witch tattoo on 6-year-old Victoria Erisman's cheek and dabbed it with a damp sponge.

Mallory Lyon and her mother, Terri Lyon of Street, decorated a small pumpkin with black foam stickers.

And dozens of children wrapped their parents with toilet paper in a mummy-wrapping contest.

The activities were part of a Halloween tailgate party with 182 families at St. Margaret School in Bel Air. The party was one of dozens of events catering to families seeking nonscary Halloween activities in the county.

The demand for such activities is growing, said Carleton Kendrick, a Boston-based family therapist.

"More and more of the parents that I work with are citing that they want nonscary events for their children," said Kendrick, co-author of Take Out Your Nose Ring, Honey, We're Going to Grandma's. "I think this is because more parents are aware of what's normal for their child's cognitive, emotional and social development. They know what's age- and stage-appropriate for young children."

County schools and civic organizations are offering alternatives to fright-filled events, including harvest celebrations and parties, an inflatable haunted house, the Pirates of the Chesapeake party at the Havre de Grace Maritime Museum, costume parades, and trick-or-treating at local businesses.

The nonscary events offer something for everyone, making Halloween more family-oriented, said Jane Dean, principal of St. Margaret.

"We started the tailgate party at Halloween because we thought it would be a wonderful community builder," Dean said. "It isn't a fundraising event, it's a family fun event. It gives the parents a chance to get to know one another, and it's safe."

Making children feel safe is key in making the holiday what it should be, Kendrick said.

"Halloween should be about fun, not fright," said Kendrick, who has been a family therapist for 29 years. "Fright is something parents have no business exposing their 5-year-old to. Kids at that age are too young to distinguish fantasy from reality."

But some parents test their children to see if they will cry or flip out when they are exposed to something scary, he said.

"Parading children to places where they are chased by people portraying all too real-looking chainsaw-yielding murderers can make for an emotionally traumatic experience," Kendrick said.

Even with the growing demand for nonscary activities, local groups aren't eliminating the scary ones.

At Ripken Stadium, an event called the 13th Inning is held in October and includes a haunted maze. Some youngsters don't make it all the way through, said Jennifer Ludwig, director of events at the stadium.

"Young children come out before they reach the end of the maze, crying," she said.

To give these children an alternative, an inflatable haunted house is available for children ages 12 and younger.

"And it isn't scary at all," Ludwig said.

The Havre de Grace Maritime Museum had a similar situation, said Beth Tapscott, curator of exhibits and collections.

In previous years, the museum had a haunted house that included ghouls, pirates and an authentic-sounding Dracula.

"The kids would come in a group and be all excited about going through it. Then they would hear the Dracula laugh and decide not to do it," Tapscott said.

This year, the museum decided to offer a party called the Pirates of the Chesapeake that included games, crafts, storytelling and music.

Events such as the museum party are just what some parents are seeking, said Anne Askey of Forest Hill.

"I appreciate that there are activities out in the community that aren't scary," said Askey, who attended St. Margaret's tailgate party. "Kids get scared and have bad dreams."

But fear isn't the only issue parents should consider when deciding what they will expose their children to, Kendrick said.

"It's not wise to take children to places that they are not developmentally or emotionally ready to deal with," he said.

For example, if a parent thinks that taking a child to a family funeral is inappropriate, then taking them to a theme park with a cemetery that has zombies getting up out of their graves is not appropriate either, he said.

"It's really about what you want your children of any age to be exposed to," Kendrick said.

On the other hand, children shouldn't be stripped of their fearlessness either, he said.

"Take cues from your child," he said. "Some children can handle seeing scary things."

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