Halloween is a hugely popular holiday, with good reason! Candy, costumes and community make for a fun times all around. However, this holiday can be overwhelming and overstimulating, not to mention, scary for toddlers and young children. Here are some tips to having a scare–free Halloween season with your family:
De-Spook Decorations – Before Halloween night rolls around, take some time to explain the holiday to your child. Toddlers have a difficult time distinguishing appearance from reality, so those cheesy yard decorations, tombstones, ghosts and zombie pumpkins can leave a lasting impression. Instead of avoiding scary images, though, children may benefit from exploring during daylight hours. Take them on a tour of a costume or party store to touch and try on various masks and costumes. You can even talk about the materials they are made of, “See, someone made this to look like a big spiderweb, but it’s actually made out of thick yarn. What do you think this ghost is made of?” Carving jack-o-lanterns and putting up decorations together can also help your child grasp what is real and what has been made for spooky fun. You can also play a game of “real or not real?,” identifying decorations vs. real objects in the neighborhood.
Costume Collaboration – It is a natural part of development for children to fear masked characters. When a child can’t see someone’s face, they don’t know what to expect and they’re not always able to grasp that what they’re seeing is just a person dressed up. If parents or older siblings have costumes with elaborate makeup or masks planned, let your little ones witness and/or be a part of the transformation so that they understand who is under the makeup or mask. Toddlers may be very frightened if they don’t recognize your face. Letting them watch you apply makeup or face paint — and even let them have a hand in some of the application (if you’re feeling brave ;)) can help them understand that you are still you!
Fickle Frankensteins – 3- and 4-year-olds change their minds and moods on a dime! It is very common for a child to be completely smitten with an object, toy or costume one minute and then lose interest the next. Try not to take it personally if you bought an expensive costume for them, or worked countless hours to make a costume for them, only to have your child announce that she doesn’t want to be a mermaid anymore, she wants to be a puppy instead! Your child may not end up wanting to wear a costume at all on Halloween. — And that’s okay, and totally developmentally appropriate.Try not to get into a power struggle over whether or not they wear their costume (“You will wear that unicorn horn or else we are not going trick-or-treating!”) As soon as your little one realizes you have an agenda, she will most likely dig in, and the two of you might end up in a rough night. Instead, try to keep reactions to a minimum and let your child tag along for trick-or-treating regardless of complete costume, or in no costume. Most likely he’ll want to put that costume on once he sees what fun it is. But if not, it will make another good addition to their dress-up collection!
Manage Monster Expectations – Any holiday can bring on stress. There’s always so much to do in little time, extra events and extra work are put into making the holiday fun and magical for the family. Our own expectations of how we think a day should go can also get in our way of having a nice time — and can trip off our child’s natural urge to resist. When dealing with toddlers and preschoolers, try to let go of any “musts.”
If the time comes and they refuse to wear their costume, are too frightened to go trick-or-treating, or they make it half-way down the block and decide they’ve had enough, trust that your child knows what he or she can handle in that moment and even if they don’t make it to the party or around the neighborhood this year, they’ll be all the more ready for Halloween fun next year. — And you can still find plenty of clearance candy starting 11/1! 😉
Natalie Monterastelli is the Co-Owner and Executive Director of Bubbles Academy and a huge fan of all things Halloween! Kids, costumes and creative imaginations (and candy) are among her favorite things. 🙂 Happy Halloween, everyone!