Halloween -- how scary is too scary?

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by Julie Snyder

Scary HalloweenIs it really healthy to allow kids to feel the chill of good old-fashioned terror during the Halloween season?

This fall holiday seems geared to scare the daylights out of children. We protect our kids from frightening movies and TV news during the rest of the year. Today it's OK send them to a stranger's door to take candy from a guy wearing a scary mask. What about all the ghouls and goblins coming to the door? Your home no longer seems a safe place.

This time of year can be exhilarating for children of all ages, but parents may need to think about ways to avoid causing anxiety in the very young.

Experts say that kids under ten may be most vulnerable to Halloween's horrors. They often have a hard time separate make-believe from reality. A kindergartner may be truly terrified of the zombie lurching at her, even if beneath the undead trappings it's her favorite uncle.

Other experts argue that being scared in the safe ways Halloween allows is actually good for older kids. It lets them practice being brave, a rare opportunity in the modern child-proof world.

How scary is too scary?

On the web, discussions about the fright factor are as plentiful as leftover candy corn. We asked our own parenting experts, our members what they think.

"When it comes to Halloween decorations, I did buy some creepy head stones that change as you look at them but they seem ok with those and understand the decorations are all fake." Cindy says.

"As mom to little boys after having girls I thought my world would turn into lots of scary looking characters. But really that is NOT the case. They are just as scared of monsters and villains as the little girls," Shellie tells us.

Suz says, "Anything that's super realistic as far as severed limbs or heads or whatever, or anything really satanic. I personally love Halloween, and I decorate the house and windows with all sorts of spooky things, but I keep it age appropriate for my little guys. I try to focus more on fun and keep the 'evil' stuff out of it...if that makes sense."

"My two girls were so different. My oldest was afraid of almost everything. She needed a gentle introduction to things that go bump. The youngest loved creepy, scary and unexpected. She was ready for green face paint and a gummy worm hanging out of her mouth in kindergarten," Jamie tells us.

Bonita talks about costumes, "We only do cute little things. For example, this year by girls are going to be a Bee, Lady Bug, and a Butterfly. We also have done the Disney Princesses. I wouldn't do anything scary."

"I definitely think it depends on the kid's age and temperament. T loooooves anything 'spooky' (although we keep it age appropriate -- like his favorite movie right now is Alvin and the Chipmunks and the Wolfman.) So, I would let him do some semi-spooky things for a costume or to decorate the house, but I wouldn't go in for serious blood and gore," Alissa says.

"Lily, at four, gets scared of things easily, like "Monster's Inc®." Brodie does better, though I always explain to him how things are fake when they look real. They both can't wait to see "Paranorman." I'm not always a good judge on what could be too scary. I don't want them to see things they can never get out of their heads so I always err on the side of caution. I don't think they're quite ready for "Monster House" nor "Coraline.""

Tanya says, "My younger kids get a little frightened by some of the displays in the neighborhood -- dry ice-created fog and black light, and strangers in scary getups. My older kids love to check it out, but the little ones don't want to, so we usually take a detour around those."

You might worry that you're setting your child up for sleepless nights and future therapy. Should Halloween should remain a treat for kids' imagination, or maybe a trick -- Wait...did something just move behind that tree? What do you think? How scary is too scary for your kids?

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.