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Creepy clowns on the rise: How to prep kids for Halloween tricks

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The difference between happy, hamburger-hawking clowns and those that send shivers up our spine may lie in their timing, location, and whether or not they speak, as evidenced in recent incidents around the US and the UK. 

In multiple locations, silent clowns are roaming around at night and scaring both kids and adults.

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This could be the cue for parents to start the pre-Halloween prep work with kids on the scary aspects of a holiday some enthusiasts may take a bit too far.

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Police officials in Bakersfield, Calif. are dealing with more than 20 reports of 'clowns standing in public holding machetes and baseball bats,' according to The Christian Science Monitor. 

According to reports, the clown sitings were the result of copycats inspired by a photography project launched by a husband and wife team who posted a series of creepy clown photos – a la Flat Stanley – taken around Wasco, Calif.

In another case, police in the city of Portsmouth, U.K., are coping with reports of a stalker clown, according to the Portsmouth News. 

The white-faced, fright-wigged, floppy-footed man with a dead-eyed stare is reportedly randomly reaching out to touch passers-by.

According to the report, after “stroking” passers-by and staring blankly without speaking, the clown went into a dance supply shop and frightened the staff.

“Whatever was he thinking? Coming into a shop that sells tutus for two-year-olds and standing there not saying a word,” Karen Wilcock, who works at the shop, told the Portsmouth News.

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Reports aren’t clear about the reasons for choosing clown costumes in any of these recent cases, but with Halloween coming up, it’s possible the pranks are spooky celebrations taken too far. It’s important for parents to help kids find a way to break through the hold fear might have on them when they see these stories on the news, or when these pranks pop up in their own neighborhoods.

In my parental experience, the fear of clowns can often be dispelled the moment the make-up wearing mouth opens and a funny line comes out. 

Also, it helps if you’re seeing the clown where they can be expected the most – a birthday party, carnival, or fast food restaurant event – not randomly stepping from the shadows on a street at night.

Indeed, Halloween in some neighborhoods can mean a scare-off between adults or teens competing for the unofficial scare record on their block.

While some neighborhoods compete to see whose house can be seen from space each Christmas season, my neighbors compete for spook factor, littering their lawns with skeletons, oversized spider webs, and inflatable spiders. Our neighborhood is already decked out, and there is a palpable prank atmosphere here in the weeks before Halloween.

While my three older sons have always reveled in the scare season, my youngest son Quin, age 10, has never been comfortable with what he calls the “jump-scare stuff” some of our neighbors pull on trick-or-treaters.

“It’s fun for them, but I hate it,” Quin reminded me as we drove past “the house” where he suffered a really bad shock from a Halloween night prankster several years ago.

It was an innocent prank. A tween boy lay down in his front yard artfully covered in leaves under a camouflage net. When trick-or-treaters came close the boy would either grab their ankle or leap up and yell “Boo!”

In Quin’s case he got both the ankle grab and scare that sent him into terror overload, ending the evening for us.

Three years later, he still won’t bike on that side of the street at any time of the year.

I’m not upset with the prankster, so much as with myself for not realizing that I needed to address the potential scare tactics with each of my sons individually. I had made the classic parenting “BOO!”- boo of assuming that all my kids would respond to pranks favorably, after watching my three older sons handle their fears head on.

So now we start checking out the neighborhood – in daylight – for all the super scary looking houses and map our trick-or-treat route accordingly.

Now my son takes it upon himself to run ahead and warn younger kids and their parents, “Don’t worry, it’s just someone in a costume trying to freak you out.”