When picking out a haunted house to go to for Halloween fun with kids, it helps to know your child. Even then, it may not be a guarantee of a good time. When we headed into the Haunted Mansion ride at Disney World a few days before my son’s 6th birthday, I envisioned a shriek or two followed by chortles of glee–the mark of a delicious and welcome fright.
After all, his sister loved that ride when she was five, and she’s the one that dressed up like a pink fairy princess for Halloween when she was his age. He was Darth Vader that growled out, “Beware of the dark side” in between his “Trick o’ Treats.”
But from the ride’s first scream that pierced the dark, and every one of the floating, dancing holograph ghosts, he hid his eyes in my armpit and kept them there until the very end when we clamored out of the car–him, in relief that the ordeal was over. Happily, he immediately bounded back, ready for a different ride. When he remembers that day, he sees the Magic Kingdom as a good dream come true. That bad mother moment did not last long.
Bad mother (or bad dad) moments seem hard to avoid when accessing the various Halloween options. “How haunted is too haunted?” one wonders.
One the other side of the age spectrum are older kids who might want more than the Casper, the friendly ghost version of ghoulish. Anything less than heart-pounding fright is a big yawn.
Here are 10 tips for picking out an age appropriate haunted house experience so that no one is disappointed and your money is well spent.
1. Look for the guidelines provided by the haunted house attraction. For example, the Ohio State Reformatory’s Halloween Experience in Mansfield, Ohio will not allow anyone under 13.
2. If the attraction’s description says “PG-13, no one under 13 admitted without an adult” like the Bludzwurth Casket and Urn Company Haunted House in Davenport, Florida, don’t assume that just because an adult is along, the attraction might be appropriate for a 4-year-old. This one looks pretty gory. Consider what you want your child’s experiences to be like.
3. Ask yourself this question: How much is my child able to distinguish between fantasy and reality? Young children, and even children over five have a blurred line when knowing the difference. Even if the child knows the haunted house isn’t real, his or her imagination can turn the experience into something troubling after wards.
4. Pay attention to how the haunted house is described. The 13th Door in Denver, Colorado’s website says, “If you want to be really scared, then experience the terror of the 13th Door.” If you don’t want your kids to be really scared, or perhaps you don’t want to be really scared, give this one a pass. Even though the 13th Door has the distinction of being voted the #1 haunted house in Colorado, perhaps the best isn’t really the best for you and yours.
5. Is the haunted house one that comes with warnings? Look for words like “strobe lights,” “fog machines” and not good for people with heart problems or who are pregnant. These warnings are there for a reason. The Darkside Haunted House in Wading River, New York also suggests people with back or neck injuries stay away.
6. Is the haunted house one where you’ll be touched? Most seem to be the type where you won’t be touched even though, the characters might come too close for comfort. You could assure you’re child beforehand that he or she won’t be touched.
7. Find out if an attraction has different versions of scary. At EnterTRAINment Junction near Cincinnati, Ohio, during the day, the haunted house is the kid-friendly, scary light version, while at night, the scary factor has the volumed turned up.
8. If you’re not sure if an attraction will be good for your child, call and ask someone who works for the attraction. This is particularly true if the attraction doesn’t have a website. Some haunted houses are local events put on by fire departments and community clubs as a fundraiser.
9. While going through an attraction, keep your eye out for the emergency exits in case you’re in the middle of a bad choice. Netherworld in Atlanta, Georgia is one such attraction. If you child gets upset, you can leave. Don’t insist that he or she persevere. Why create a bad mom or dad moment with your stubborn behavior?
10. And. to make sure you aren’t disappointed once you decide, find out before you go if you can still get tickets. Some haunted houses sell tickets beforehand. They can sell out. Because it’s close to Halloween, be ready for longer lines. Show up early and bring money for hot chocolate or a snack.