Halloween is fast approaching, and children have long been dreaming about their costumes and their upcoming hauls of candy. Halloween can be a great deal of fun—friends are out, the houses are decorated, and the Halloween excitement can even take over the reality of schoolwork (writing a pop-quiz is easier when you are dressed like a superhero).
Halloween also presents it’s own challenges to a parent—from managing your child’s active imagination, to their potentially overactive consumption of sugar.
To help you through this holiday of make belief and overstimulation, we’ve put together a list of things parents should consider this Halloween:
1. Halloween is a perfect opportunity to spend time with your child
You can make/shop for a costume together, decorate the house with cobwebs and skeleton bones, and walk around the community with them while making sure your child and others are safe.
2. Talk to your children about their imagination
Explain why good and bad characters are suddenly coming to life on the street from their favourite movies or their personal fears. Explain that people are pretending, and they’re using their own imagination to build their costumes. This even presents the opportunity to discuss how bad and good co-exist in this world.
Word of Caution:
One of the dangers of wearing a mask and playing a character in costume is that some kids may start to exhibit behaviours that they otherwise would not do, knowing they will not be recognized. Bullying and other bad behaviours can be worse in these situations. If you know that your child can be susceptible to this kind of behaviour, they should either be supervised, or measures should be discussed on what will be done if this behaviour arises. Remind your child that having a mask and playing a character does not mean you have to be bad to others—it’s still a holiday and meant to be a fun activity for all involved.
3. Halloween is an opportunity for kids to confront their fears
In general, children have wonderful imaginations—perfect to create potential monsters in the closet, ghouls and goblins, ghosts, and any other scary thing that may be lurking in the darkness.
Some children’s imaginations are so wonderful, that they can scare themselves with their own images. One of the responsibilities of being a parent is helping your child differentiate between reality and the images in their head—and Halloween’s unique traditions provide a perfect opportunity to do so.
This is a time when things that are usually imagined, become “real.”
Naturally, a mentally healthy child can differentiate between reality and imagination, and it’s important to support this ability. The scary costumes and decorations during Halloween serve as an opportunity for kids to confront their real fears, in a safe and fun way. This kind of safe exposure can greatly reduce their fears of these things.
After all, it’s not every night you can walk around among ghosts or knock on doors and collect candy with super villains!
4. Maintain a comfort zone for your child based on their level of development and psychological well being
Some children have imaginations that are “too wild,” suffer from social anxiety, or can be over stimulated. Children who suffer from these issues should be restricted to what they’re exposed to. For younger kids, it can be a good idea for parents to take them out for an hour before it gets dark. For older kids, it’s a good idea to make sure they go out with a group of friends that you are familiar with.
5. Keep Halloween safe for your child
Halloween is a good time for parents to review the safety issues outside. Discuss different situations and how to tell the difference between real danger and just fun. Remind your child that if stranger approaches and invites them to go somewhere, they are not to go with them. They should also never be left in dark places, where the streets may be deserted. Remind them of curfew what time they are required home. Parents should also know which areas their children plan to visit while they are trick or treating.
6. Limit sugar consumption
Goblins and ghouls aside, the real prize on many children’s minds this Halloween will be the candy they’ll acquire throughout the night. With all this excitement, your child may be tempted to overindulge in their haul. And if your child already is prone to hyperactivity, this overindulgence may have many undesirable effects on their behaviour.
ADHD and Sugar:
Parents who have children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are often concerned about their children having too much sugar during Halloween. Your child will come home the night of trick or treating with a lot of candy, so it’s a good idea to talk to them before the event about how much candy they will be allowed to eat that night. You may even want to set guidelines and rules about how many candies will be allowed daily going forward.
Too much candy can have an effect on ANYONE. Pay close attention to what makes your child hyperactive—if candy is one of these things, discuss limitations with them ahead of time.
Limiting your child’s Halloween candy intake is also an excellent opportunity for them to learn delayed gratification—the ability to put off an immediate (typically smaller) reward for a later (longer lasting) reward. This is a valuable skill that can facilitate your child’s success in the future.
Longitudinal studies have shown that children who have learned delayed gratification in early years, are rated as more academically and socially competent, verbally fluent, rational, attentive, and better able to manage frustration and stress as adolescents (Mischel, Shoda, & Peake, 1988).
To limit the amount of candy your child is receiving, try to emphasis giving to children less fortunate then them through foundations such as UNICEF. Instead of receiving candy, they can ask for small donations to give to children who don’t get to dress up for Halloween and collect candy.
If your child is social, Halloween is a good time for them to be social and explore their community. It’s good to show trust in your child, if you’ve discussed all the safety precautions previously mentioned. However, if your child:
- Has fears that are irrational and more than their average fears,
- Is hyperactive,
- Becomes over stimulated by lights and sounds,
- Or is impulsive—be prepared to limit, restrict and plan ahead.
Happy trick or treating!
Mischel, W., Shoda, Y., & Peake, P. K. (1988). The nature of adolescent competencies predicted by preschool delay of gratification. Journal of personality and social psychology, 54(4), 687.