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The children were all nestled snug in their beds while visions of ghosts and goblins danced in their heads.

Okay, I’m obviously taking some serious poetic license here, but the Halloween season is upon us; most kids are ecstatic, and the stores are filled with every kind of creepy costume and ghostly gadget imaginable. Plus, the promise of bags filled with candy is guaranteed to put smiles on many young faces.

But what about those frightful images for young children? My kids may be enamored with the eerie, but a few years ago some of the decorations adorning our neighborhood made them a bit unsettled. As parents, we can easily overcome this dilemma. After all, Halloween is just for fun, and most of our waking hours we’re teaching our children the meaning of pretend. Thankfully, treats always trump tricks, and most kids learn quickly that underneath that werewolf mask is really sweet Joey from down the street. There are many ways to skin that proverbial cat.Photo: science.howstuffworks.com

Nevertheless, it’s not a stretch for kids to ponder even pretend scenarios, which can trigger questions that we as parents often don’t know how to answer. Like recently when my Tim Burton-loving daughter who prefers Coraline to Cinderella asked me when her grandfather was going to die. Gulp.

Clearly when it comes to talking to kids about the reality of death, we’re presented with a greater challenge. Zombies may be defeated by Brad Pitt in the movies, but our children will inevitably experience the death of a loved one, and nobody in the world will be able to change that fact. Because a young child has a basic need to feel safe, the permanence of death can be a very traumatizing subject to broach. With my daughter’s question, I explained that people die when they’re either very sick or very old. My response to her question: “Papa may be old for a long time before he dies.”

So when my husband’s grandmother passed away last month, I simply told our five and eight-year-old daughters that “great grandma went to heaven today,” and we said a little prayer for her together. I kept it light, unemotional and matter of fact, and I tried not to let them see my sadness. We’re Catholic, so they’ve learned to lean on the solid foundation we’ve built together through our faith. So far, it’s working for us, but we’ve merely scratched the surface and have kept our children away from wakes and funeral services until they are of the age where they can better process such events.

Regardless of a family’s religious beliefs, the experts all agree that being honest with children about death is an important first step. Children, depending on their age or maturity level, may have many different reactions to conversations about death. In our household, my daughters began asking questions around four, an age most child psychologists believe children are very literal in their ability to understand things.

According to kidshealth.org, “kids from the ages of about 6 to 10 start to grasp the finality of death, even if they don't understand that it will happen to every living thing one day…Often, kids this age personify death and think of it as the ‘boogeyman’ or a ghost or a skeleton. They deal best with death when given accurate, simple, clear and honest explanations about what happened.”

So keeping in the spirit of Halloween, as long as children aren’t terrified of those make-believe monsters, we can unleash the unnerving and delve into the disturbing. It’s for fun, after all. If anything, it may be a good time to let them know that consuming too much candy isn’t a good formula for a long, healthy life.

Julia Sherwin is a freelance writer and mother of three who lives in Chester County. She is a former college journalism instructor who enjoys running, biking, swimming, traveling and cooking.

Email her at jsherwin73@gmail.com  or follow her other parenting articles at juliasherwin.wordpress.com.

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Photo: science.howstuffworks.com