In Parenting Now’s October 2017 column, we offer tricks for treating young children to a less frightful Halloween.
While not all families are fans of Halloween, for many of us, Halloween invokes memories that are scary and exciting, fearful and fun.
Although young minds still are learning to distinguish between real and pretend, we want to protect our kids from being traumatized, and, as parents, we can guide experiences so our children can have fond memories of Halloween.
The first step is to acknowledge our own fears for our kids. We’re afraid they will see or hear something that will scare them. We’re afraid they will get overwhelmed, hyped up on sugar and be unable to cope. We’re afraid we won’t catch the poisoned candy in time; they are so fast they might just get it in their mouth before we see. We can’t even be sure that staying home and handing out candy is safe. We’ve all opened the door to the “walking dead” teenager holding out a grimy pillowcase for candy, right? On Halloween, the boogeyman seems real.
We can manage this holiday! Let’s talk about courage. It takes courage every day to be a parent. Managing our own anxiety with everything from changing diapers to finding day care is hard work. We take a deep breath and do our best planning, gather our supports around us, hold onto our kids and jump in feet first. We can do the same thing for Halloween.
If you are parenting with a partner, ask each other questions and talk about it. If not, ask yourself these questions: What was Halloween like for you growing up? What did you love? What memories make you smile? What was scary? Are there songs, books, rhymes or special treats you remember fondly? What is important to you? What do you want your child to remember? How can you guide your child through what they encounter?
Even very young children have body memories for what happens before they can express themselves. The feelings they experience become part of their biology. When they feel safe and secure, they learn to trust that you are there to look out for them. They develop an optimistic attitude and stance in the world. As parents, we do our best to shape our children’s worlds so that they always feel safe and supported while having fun. Halloween can stretch those attitudes with unexpected events and images.
A couple of things to think about when creating the best Halloween experience for your family: Each child’s temperament and developmental stage is different. One family with an outgoing, adventurous toddler might run from house to house shouting, “twick … twee …” (or some version of the required statement pleading for candy). A more cautious toddler might have more fun going to a friend’s house to show off her costume and play.
Preschoolers often love to play dress up, and going to a party at preschool might be just the thing. Preteens may be “over it” or just as likely relish the chance to wear makeup and wear something you deem inappropriate, but “all the other kids” are wearing.
There are challenges at every age. You know your child best and are the best judge about what they need.
If all your planning breaks down, and your little one is scared and is having difficulty calming himself, acknowledge his feelings and reassure him that you are there. Ask the other child or adult to take off their mask or rub off some of their makeup if possible. “That monster costume really scared you! Monsters are not real; that was a mask he was wearing. Remember when we asked the boy to take off his mask? His real face was underneath. I’m here for you to hug when you need me.”
There are many ways to celebrate while making sure your young child is safe and having fun. Some tips and tricks from other parents include:
- For costumes, simple is better than cute, for ease of diapering or making it to the bathroom without having to get completely undressed.
- Find out if going to a party is an option, such as at a church, community center or day care center.
- Many malls offer treats as a safe, indoor place for trick-or-treating.
- Be visible and warm; use reflective tape or stickers.
- Go out before dark with preschoolers, and bring a flashlight just in case.
- Check to make sure costumes fit to avoid tripping.
- Use something for candy that is easy for your child to carry.
- Talk about your guidelines or rules, i.e., don’t eat anything unless a parent has looked at it and said it was OK; talk about how much they can eat tonight; and stick by your plan.
- Take pictures!
With planning and preparation, you can create fond memories for both you and your children while having a safe and fun Halloween together. And the best part about Halloween as a parent? Getting into the candy after your little princess or monster is fast asleep!