At 2 years old, it took my daughter, Quinnlyn, exactly one house to figure out how the whole trick-or-treating thing worked. That’s when I fell into a parenting crisis.
After much scrutiny, she chose to be Supergirl for Halloween in 2014. She had no clue who that was — and still doesn’t — but dang it, the costume looked cool. We went out in South Minneapolis with a friend of mine — whose daughter was a dragon — and had, in my biased opinion, the two cutest trick-or-treaters in the neighborhood.
It was fun to watch. We explained what she was going to do and sent her up to the first house. After that, she was in the zone and we had to reel her back in when she tried to approach houses without the front lights on. I was in true parental awe as I watched her embrace this new activity and basked in the glow of the girls’ laughter and smiles as we made our way down the block.
Suddenly, reality set in and I started wondering what I was teaching my daughter: “strangers + candy = AWESOME!” As I wondered how to explain to a 2-year-old that this is only a one-day-a-year thing — even though she didn’t know what a “year” is — and that she shouldn’t take things from strangers, though everyone is a “stranger” to her, I was awoken to the traffic whizzing by on the busy street behind me.
That’s one of many moments where the balance of parenting was woefully tricky; it’s easy to get lost in a child’s joy and happiness. I believe that I have a responsibility to protect Quinnlyn’s sense of imagination, and what better way to explore imagination than pretending to be a superhero for a day? Halloween shifted from just a fun day to an important moment in her development; how quickly I forgot to make sure she had boundaries and understood where risks existed.
It’s easy to get lost in surprise at how much their young minds understand and, in turn, forget about all the things they don’t. After all, it’s not easy to immerse them in an environment that’s full of “fake” danger — scary creatures hiding in the darkness that light up and move as you approach, or ghoulish costumes designed to turn the strongest of stomachs — while teaching them to respect real danger.
- Talk to your kids about Halloween before they go out — give them boundaries and teach them that not everything out there is designed to be fun.
- Wear reflective clothing and make sure everyone has a light with them.
- Supervise children at all times and monitor interactions with people who answer the door.
- Cross the street only at intersections and be sure drivers see you.
- Inspect all candy and “treats” before they eat any and throw away anything that’s opened or looks suspicious.
This year, I’ll be taking my little zebra rider out into the neighborhood, but I’ll make sure our Halloween experience isn’t a total zoo.
Dex Tuttle is the injury prevention program coordinator at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.