One Halloween when our kids were little, a neighbor planned a big surprise for them…and us. As we opened the door on that Halloween eve, we were all greeted by a life-sized gorilla, furry from head to toe, and with the most realistic gorilla mask imaginable!

“Happy Halloween,” came the familiar voice from inside the costume. Well, familiar to the adults, but not so for the little ones. Her words of Halloween happiness were greeted by two screaming toddlers running as fast as they could away from the door.

Our well-intended neighbor took the mask off, as she followed the children to assure them that she was their friendly neighbor, and the gorilla was just a costume.

If you’ve ever tried convincing a two year old that something pretend is not real, you know how unsuccessful the neighbor was in allaying the children’s fears.

As a child development specialist, I knew right away that the gorilla costume would become part of family lore. Two year olds are often frightened by masks and things that don’t make sense to them – like the giant Mickey Mouse at Disney World, or the happily made-up clown at the circus.  Chalk it up to cognitive capacity, temperament, and expectations, but one way or the other, the potential for lasting (not so pleasant) memories are great for our little ones when costumes and masks are aplenty.

To this day, our kids reminisce about the day the gorilla surprised us at the front door. Hopefully when they have their own toddlers, they’ll take some of the great advice offered by Zero to Three.  Whether your child is afraid of masks, the doctor, the dark or the vacuum cleaner, use this Q&A as a guide to address and respond to fears.

Wishing you a safe and fright-free Halloween!