As the “creepy clown” phenomenon intensifies and Halloween nears, parents are wise to talk to kids of all ages about these frightening occurrences — because some kids are getting creeped out by what’s going on.
“A normal clown can be very scary to a small child because a child can’t see clowns’ real faces — they wear so much makeup,” Connecticut child and adolescent family therapist Darby Fox told LifeZette. “Are the clowns really smiling, are they nice — and are they really that happy?”
Creepy clown sightings and run-ins are now occurring all over the world. Just last week in Germany, a man disguised as a “horror clown” beat up a 19-year-old with a baseball bat in the city of Rostock, injuring his head and arm, according to DW.com. Earlier that day in the same town, a 15-year-old boy was approached by a clown with a knife. The teenager was able to escape unharmed.
Clowns and jesters have a long history — their presence dates back to ancient Rome.
“The court jester was given license to say things that might be rude or impolitic or socially unacceptable — even about the king,” Benjamin Radford, author of “Bad Clowns,” told the BBC. “He could make fun of a king’s weight or how young his concubines were, and not be put to death for it because of the clown’s role as a truthsayer.”
For many children, the boisterous, exaggerated movements of a clown sound alarm bells.
“Clowns by nature sort of overact and jump around, and kids are recoiling, thinking, ‘Who is this in my space?'” said Fox.
A natural fear of clowns is now intensifying, said Fox.
“There’s a lot of media [coverage] of creepy clowns, too — the reports actually outweigh the occurrences,” said Fox. “And the key fact remains: We can’t explain why this is happening. None of us knows what to think.”
Parents can do a few things to help a child who is legitimately frightened of creepy clowns. “Parents can re-frame the topic for a younger child,” said Fox. “Ask where the child saw or heard about this, and begin to look at it from a very realistic way. Also, review what a clown is. The clowns aren’t real; they are just people in a costume, usually performing a job. For younger kids, pointing this out very clearly is helpful,” said Fox.
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“For severe anxiety and even panic in children, the best thing we can do for them is to talk it through,” she explained. “Put some education and reality checking into the fears a child is expressing. Be with your children physically. If they say, ‘I can’t go trick-or-treating’ — offer to go with them. Be really, really reassuring.”
For older children, the idea is to talk over fears and Halloween plans, and steer clear of escalation of the fears of others.
“Social media has perpetuated the creepy clowns. This can be shared with an older child as reassurance,” Fox continued.
For middle-schoolers, Fox offers three tips for Halloween safety. “First, as kids this age travel in packs on Halloween, make sure they know to stay in those packs. No wandering off alone. Secondly, tell kids to report anything that doesn’t feel right. They should tell an adult about any concerns. Don’t ignore them. By middle school, kids are old enough to have a sense if a situation is right or wrong.”
“Then, third, remind the kids that even during Halloween, we don’t really want to try and scare people badly — some people really do get very frightened and freaked out with this type of thing, so don’t go there.”
For kids who say they want to dress as a creepy clown — this isn’t the year for donning a red rubber nose and floppy shoes. “Kids in adolescence aren’t trying to be jerks by pegging off the creepy clown phenomenon. They just don’t think about consequences,” said Fox.
“Their frontal lobe isn’t fully developed, and their executive functions aren’t in the best place,” she continued. “We need to ‘preview’ the experience for them. The idea is, ‘Let’s think it through. What is your costume plan for this year?'”