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Keep fear out of Halloween

In schools and homes across western New York, holidays offer a great opportunity to engage kids in all manner of artistic activities. Halloween though, presents some unique challenges for anyone working with young people who may have been traumatized by violence or abuse.

Fortunately, there is a growing sensitivity to the long term effects of trauma and the ways that seemingly common things can cause traumatized people great harm. Perhaps you have already heard of “Trigger Alerts” which are now frequently used to advise people that a program contains graphic images or other content that the audience may find disturbing. This simple courtesy allows audience members to decide for themselves about what they wish to be exposed to, and with good reason as our constant exposure to horrific scenes of violence and tragedy can itself be trauma inducing.

So here’s the problem—Halloween is the one American holiday that is specifically designed to purposely trigger fear in young people and they really have no choice about it. From non-stop advertisements for Hollywood-style haunted houses to a simple bloody handprint sticker on their classroom wall, the symbols and sounds of violence surround them and may trigger physical and emotional responses that all children should be safe from.

So this Halloween, if you are working with or around young people, please pause and take a second look at what we are doing in the name of “good fun.” Are your decorations and art activities really appropriate for the age of your class? Are you unintentionally including graphic depictions of violence that could trigger a distressful reaction in those children who have experienced trauma? After all, the traditional icons of Halloween—witches, goblins, bats and pumpkins, etc—have always been enjoyed without the unintentional effect of glorifying violence.

And for anyone interested in the effect of trauma on the children there are a number of excellent resources for you to explore, including The National Child Trauma Stress Network ( and the University of Buffalo’s Institute on Trauma and Trauma Informed Care (

> Joseph Gallagher, Spokesperson New Directions Youth & Family Services,

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