Making Halloween safe and fun for your family

Jeri Kayser, a Child Life specialist at Children’s, wrote this post for families.

Halloween is so entrenched in our culture that when you hear the word you are going to get as many diverse opinions about it as there are costumes on the racks at big box stores. There are also countless opportunities to gather information about making this a safe holiday. Additionally, each family is going to develop their own traditions of celebrating, or not celebrating, this holiday. So how can we add to the conversation?

I would argue that there is a developmental perspective that can help guide us as to when children are ready to be part of the festivities and how to best prepare them. Half the fun of having kids in your life is reliving the joys of childhood. Often this eagerness to be a kid again can make us overlook our children’s readiness to participate in Halloween as we buy out all of the fake blood at the store for “the most awesome haunted house ever!”

There is the other end of the spectrum: When are you too old to trick or treat? How do you transition to a different way to celebrate? So with these thoughts and more: a step-by-step look at Halloween through ages and stages….

Infants

There are a million fun costumes for babies, which they are adorable in because everything they do is adorable until they scream because they are hungry, overtired or overstimulated.

  • Be respectful of their schedule and normal needs. This will go a long way toward everyone’s enjoyment of those cute little lions, bumblebees and princesses.
  • The costume should fit all of the guidelines you usually take into consideration when dressing your baby. Comfort and safety are key and easy diaper changes are a necessity!

Toddlers

This age group has a really tough time understanding the difference between a real monster and Uncle Keith dressed up like a monster. This makes Halloween scary and thrilling and overwhelming all at once, which can be too much without some good old- fashioned preparation.

  • Read some toddler books about Halloween a few days before the big event.
  • If there are older siblings, encourage your toddler to watch as they get ready so that they can see their sibling transform into that noble knight.
  • Encourage your toddler to help hand out the candy. They can see the variety of costumes and begin to recognize kids they know. Plus, there is a lot of power in handing out the candy, which can help your child feel masterful.

Pre-schoolers

Part of the magic of Halloween is getting to dress up and become anything you can imagine. This is not a problem for your average pre-schooler who lives in the world of make-believe and pretend.

  • Think through their costume choices carefully. Their ability to live in the world of make-believe is so advanced that once they are dressed as a monster, they are a monster and all civil behavior could be gone.
  • Think about your child’s typical patience for running errands and getting in and out of the car, and apply that to how long you should spend trick or treating. Start with just a few houses in your neighborhood and with people your child is familiar with.
  • Bring a camera so that you can talk about some of the kids and costumes you saw.
  • Be mindful of the houses that like to add some scary features and keep it simple.
  • Check out what kinds of holiday-related activities might be available in your community. Many areas have parties for kids with age-appropriate activities. This can give them a chance to dress up and have fun if trick or treating isn’t right for them.

School age

The ever-lasting challenge of parenting is to grow with your child as they become increasingly independent. This age group will vary greatly from their overwhelming commitment to manhandling a catalogue of costumes into a wrinkled mass of pulp paper in search of the perfect costume to complete indifference.

  • Manage expectations and prepare for possible post-holiday blues.
  • Use your child’s costume as a way to develop planning skills. Set a deadline as to when the decision needs to be finalized and help your child problem solve how they could make it happen. Can they make the costume? What would need to be purchased and how would that be paid for?

Teens

Ah… the classic question: When are you too old to trick or treat? There will come a time when your child has outgrown trick or treating. Either they will come to that conclusion themselves or you may have to set guidelines as to what rule you want to establish as a family.

  • Decide as a family when it’s time to stop trick or treating, and have that discussion a few years before you anticipate the change to happen.
  • This step represents a little bit of loss, as with every step to adulthood, but also comes with the opportunity to create some new traditions that will form their own wonderful memories. Find out from your teen what they would like to do that might be more age–appropriate, like inviting friends over for a party, going together as a group to a community haunted house or watching a Halloween-themed movie
  • This is also a great time to share with your teen the fun of making holiday magic for a younger child. They could take kids trick or treating, hand out treats, help design a neighborhood spooky house or help with community events.

Each step is part of the pathway of childhood and is the most fun when your child is prepared for the experience and mindful of when they are ready to move on. Happy Halloween!

Jeri Kayser has been a Child Life Specialist at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota since 1985. Her educational background is in child development and psychology. She has three children, ages 21, 19 and 15, who have been a great source of anecdotes to help illustrate developmental perspective. They are wonderful at being good sports about it.

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