In the weeks approaching Halloween, we have the chance to see what value this celebration holds for children and note some of the risks. It’s important for adults to be aware that for young or highly sensitive older children, grotesque images in movies and holiday displays can haunt children’s sleep and psyches for weeks after Halloween, even if they protest that they love scary things.
The positive news is Halloween provides an occasion to enhance children’s emotional development by letting them act out fantasies and overcome fears and feelings of helplessness. In our elementary parade on Halloween, we ask children not to wear frightening masks, but children get the chance to show off their costumes and their bravery as they see an assortment of ghosts and powerful figures traveling around the school and through the preschool yards, and afterward everyone can say, “I wasn’t afraid!”
Halloween offers some of the benefits of dramatic play and play therapy, situations where children are given free rein to experiment with expressing new aspects of the personality. An emphasis on creating a strong sense of self and playfulness with others is a priority right now, after the isolation and social regression of COVID. It’s part of making wellness a priority.
Sometimes parents in preschool express concern about boys wearing dresses, not realizing that trying on new identities without being judged is an important process in emotional development. Dramatic play often doesn’t involve an appreciative audience, but on Halloween children (and adults) can look forward to really being seen.
The process of creating a new self is enhanced by the amount of involvement and creativity children put into it. Store-bought Power Ranger or even Disney princess costumes don’t afford a child a lot of choices. Problem solving about their costume choices promotes emotional investment and learning. In preparation for trick-or-treating, children of every age can make choices that make them feel empowered. Do they want an extra prop? Do they want make-up or a mask? Do they want to create a lookalike costume with a friend or be individual?
Halloween can remind us all of the importance of making time for play and pretend throughout the year, not just on a day of nationally recognized celebration.