Going for “Boo!” and Avoiding “Boo-hoo!”
It’s nearing the end of October and if you’re scrambling to figure out a costume, sewing a tutu or crafting an orange Dusty outfit (complete with wings), just remember that your child may well refuse to wear it come Halloween night. And, maybe there are more pressing issues to consider.
Expectations – our children’s and our own – can be a big part of the problem in holiday celebrations. I’m not saying lower the bar, but I am saying, make sure the bar is adjustable. There is no “one-size-fits-all” with children and no one perfect way to celebrate Halloween. It’s your job to tailor holiday plans for your child’s age, developmental stage and personality.
Kids under two are just beginning to discover their imagination. For them, telling fantasy from reality is often impossible. Parents can help weather Halloween by reminding children what is “pretend” and what is not. Playing dress-up and make believe can be helpful in allowing them to deal more comfortably with Halloween. Steering away from “too scary” activities will help.
Ages 3 – 5
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, for 3 to 5 years olds and their lively imaginations, perception is reality. A school friend in a zombie costume is a ZOMBIE! When the mask is removed, seeing a Zombie body with a friend’s head is, if nothing else, unsettling. Avoiding masks entirely may be the best route. Don’t take kids this age into dark and noisy areas like haunted houses unless you want to leave soon thereafter with them screaming! Before Halloween, take a smart phone photo of your child before they put on their costume, and then after it is on. Talk with them about who is in each photo, “There you are looking like your “regular self” – and “here you are wearing your Superman mask. Who’s face is behind that mask?” Let them know they will be seeing grownups and children wearing costumes and that some of them may be scary. Reassure them that there are “regular” people underneath the costumes. If your child is fearful, don’t let older siblings tease them as this will only increase their anxiety. Taking them out early on Halloween, before the older kids in gory costumes are out, is a good idea.
Ages 5 – 8
Logical thinking is creeping in! Hurray! This makes children less sensitive to an irrational fear of witches and ghosts, but they are still scared by real-looking blood and gore. Children this age are highly susceptible to frightening movies and video games and they will need guidance in choosing appropriate activities. Help them navigate peer pressure and find Halloween activities that match their comfort level.
It just makes good sense to consider the ages and personalty types of your children when planning for Halloween. An older teen can go to haunted house, a middle schooler can trick or treat in the neighborhood and a preschooler may be happiest at Discovery Center’s Great Pumpkin Fest. A highly sensitive child, of any age, may want to forgo the costume parties entirely and celebrate with games and treats at home.
As in all things with your children, love and accept them at their current stage of development. Reality testing improves with age, and next year, your fearful five year old may be begging to wear the spooky costume he found so frightening this year.
Discovery Center’s Great Pumpkin Festival will be held October 24th from 4 until 7 PM. The upstairs of the museum will be themed “Minion Mania” and will be based on the Despicable Me characters. Admission is $3. The new Discovery Center picture book, Scarlett’s Adventure, hot off the press, will be available!
by Billie B. Little, Founding Director
Home Halloween activities
- Make a healthy Halloween treat – shape faces using mandarin oranges, raisins and pear halves or make witch’s brooms from pretzel rods and strips of yellow cheese
- Make masks from construction paper or scrap – tape the masks to tongue depressors to play a Halloween version of “peek-a-boo” with little ones. Draw simple shapes with round eye holes to make teddy bears, cats or a pumpkin head.
- Collect cardboard and recyclables and make a costume using only newspaper and tape
- Paint or carve a jack O’lantern, toast pumpkin seeds or bake a pumpkin pie.
- Have a non-scary Halloween supper of orange, yellow, black and white food – think butternut squash soup, cheese sandwiches, carrots and licorice whips