Things Little Kids Are Scared Of

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The nights are getting colder. The harvest moon is full and bright. I’m pretty sure that I just heard a werewolf or something howling off in the distance – aww, aww, awwooooo. Yes, it’s October. And for kids, that means one thing: Halloween.

Until this year, my two boys were convinced that Halloween was entirely about the candy. Dressing up in costumes and traipsing through the neighborhood was simply the means to an end. It was their way of procuring a bulging bagful of Tootsie Rolls, Snickers and Smarties. They didn’t question the process at all. No inquisitive “Daddy, why am I dressed like Scooby Doo?” No curious “Why are we knocking on some stranger’s door at night?” No second thoughts. They just wanted the goods.

Now that they’re all of 7 and 4 years old, things have changed. They’ve become equally obsessed with the spooky side of Halloween, and they love to talk about all of the things that they consider scary. As I’ve listened to their lists of scary stuff, it has occurred to me that I was scared of the exact same things when I was a kid. And that’s interesting because the list is kind of odd. They’re not scared of global warming, contaminants in the drinking water, 30-year mortgages, or Michele Bachmann, like us adults. Kids have more immediate concerns, such as grizzly bears and magic spells. Could it be that there is a universal list of stuff that kids are scared of? If there is, it probably includes these things:

Quicksand. I’m 38 years old and have traveled a bit, yet I have never seen real quicksand in nature. Does it even exist or is it just a Hollywood convention for quickly eliminating bad guys from a storyline? When I was a kid, I was terrified of quicksand. One false step – in the backyard, on the way to school, at the beach, anywhere – and you were a goner, swallowed up in the grainy abyss. I was convinced of that. My kids now talk about quicksand with the same fear. Weird.

Volcanoes. Everyone knows that dragons live in volcanoes. That’s scary enough, but what my kids are even more afraid of is the lava. Red-hot molten lava rushing down the side of a mountain toward innocent bystanders. When footage of a volcano erupting in Japan hit the TV news, my boys were petrified. They asked, “Lava can’t really cover a whole city … can it?” My social studies teacher wife kindly offered them the story of Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius. The boys have been on a volcano watch ever since.

Haunted houses. Haunted houses are everywhere in October – pay $5 and a teenager in a goalie mask will gladly frighten the bejesus out of you. What I’m talking about, though, are real haunted houses. Like the house on the corner that has been vacant for two years. You know, that house that my son’s friend’s dad’s doctor’s brother said belonged to a guy who escaped from prison and was later killed there by someone with a light saber. Yeah, that house is haunted, my son said.

Darth Vader. Speaking of light sabers, Darth Vader is one scary dude. He freaked me out for a good 20 years until I finally found out that it was just James Earl Jones back there. Within the past year, my boys have been mesmerized by all things Star Wars – the movies, the Lego Star Wars Wii games and action figures. They wouldn’t admit they were scared of Darth Vader until we went to Star Wars Night at our local ballpark. On the way to the hot dog stand, both boys nearly soiled themselves when we walked right by Lord Vader in the concourse.

Loch Ness monster. The other night, completely out of the blue, my older son asked me if the Loch Ness monster is real. Actually, he asked: “Daddy, can we look up on the Internet to see if the Loch Ness monster is real?” After explaining that not everything on the Internet is fact, we Googled it. And there, in black and white, was the famous image of Nessy’s serpent head rising out of the water. That was enough proof for him. His next question: “That monster couldn’t swim across the ocean could he?”

There are other scary things, too, of course – Bigfoot, tarantulas, potions and poisons, ninjas and giant roller coasters all make the kids’ list. Halloween is pretty cool, though, because it’s a time to consider those things that are a little scary to us, and to laugh and joke about them with others over a bagful of candy. And that tends to make everything seem less scary.

Brian Kantz is always scared that he’ll run out of candy on Halloween night. That’s why he buys three times as much as he thinks he’ll actually need. Brian can be reached at