Boo! Young Children and Halloween

Halloween is a time for scares, tricks and spooky stories, right? Some young children seem ready to embrace Halloween and all the scariness that it has to offer, and some children are much more likely to hide from the ghosts and goblins. As a parent, this time of year helps you to quickly learn what your child is able to handle in terms of thrills and excitement.

Children under the age of seven still have the tendency to confuse fantasy and reality, and so the child who looks like she is enjoying a thrill may later that day become scared about what she saw.

The staff at Harley Hopkins Family Center has discussed ideas for helping you navigate the spooky stuff in a way that best meets your child’s attitude toward the holiday. Here are some of our tips:

1. Halloween really celebrates spooky, but often the excitement of the holiday can be too much for our youngest children. Parents often need to advocate for their child. Control the environment and expose children only to what they are ready to handle. If a party is getting too scary,  go home. Avoid areas of the store that might have Halloween displays that are too scary. If your child sees someone in a scary mask, you could ask that person to take off the mask to confirm with your child that it is just a costume, not real.

2. Our children need us to follow their lead during this holiday. This means we respect what they are willing and able to do during Halloween. We love to see kids in costumes, and we remember our own years of joyfully running in our outlandish outfits and gathering all that candy. However, young children may not be willing to even put on a costume. This is very common for the young child because the costume itself may be uncomfortable, or the child is not comfortable “becoming” someone different—even for a day. Masks can be especially difficult for young children to tolerate, as it is extremely difficult to see behind those tiny holes designed for eyes.

If your child is uncomfortable in a costume, acknowledge that this may not be the year for a costume. Parents can help children participate by handing out candy at the door rather than dressing up to trick-or-treat.

3. Are you and your child ready for the excitement of Halloween? Then practice practice practice what you will be doing that evening. Talk with your child about what to expect. Talk about the people she will see in costumes. Talk a lot about how these people are pretending. Discuss what to say at the door of the neighbor’s house—both “trick-or-treat” and “thank you!” Remind your child that they are not to have any candy until they are back at their house.

4. Remember, also, to keep your expectations realistic: go trick or treating while it is still light out or during dusk (there will be lots of fun years ahead when your child will be old enough to brave the scary dark spooky Halloween experience) and feel free to go home when your child is tired of it (they are usually satisfied with the experience after just a few houses). Lastly, be sure to dress for the weather. Halloween in Minnesota often means the costume is covered by a winter jacket, mittens, scarf and hat. Better to be warm on Halloween night then to catch a cold that lasts a week or more!

5. Enjoy Halloween with your young child! These sweet years quickly give way to haunted houses and scary parties and nights out with friends. Enjoy as a family the celebration of Halloween as a young child needs to see it.

The staff at the Fred Rogers Company provide more information on dress up, costumes and Halloween. Learn about young children’s idea of pretend and real, and following their lead on how they want to experience the scariest holiday of the year. This can help your whole family enjoy the spooks and tricks of the season in these early years of childhood.

Just Breathe…

We have begun a new school year and already we feel like we can’t slow down! One common thread among families of all ages seems to be the sense that things are moving fast, without much of a chance to create the calmness we are all craving.

The Hopkins Early Childhood staff discussed this issue at a recent professional development training – and worked together to process the strategies offered to combat the stress of modern child rearing. We would like to share one option, deceptively simple and yet so very hard to prioritize. This basic method of creating calm is by focusing on our breathing. Yoga practice, meditation, and relaxation techniques tend to incorporate this in their teachings. Adults often hear in many different circles that counting to 10 and just breathing will help to create calm during escalating situations. The common consensus is that by slowing down, focusing only on our breathe, and giving ourselves the smallest of breaks during the day, we can maintain a more relaxed attitude.

So why is it so hard to just breathe? We don’t value “nothingness” in an age of super-busy. We feel really silly paying attention to something as basic as breathing. We don’t feel like we have the time to give up to something that doesn’t produce a result (other than keeping us alive, of course!) However, our stress and the level of anxiety we feel just trying to get through our hectic days should be telling most of us that we need to refocus on finding our own calm – so we can help our families find their own calm center.

Tips for finding time to relax:

  • Give just 5 minutes a day to the practice of focusing on your breathe, break that up into two 3 minute segments, if that feels more manageable.
  • Let go of the idea that there has to be a big process. At a very basic level, your body and mind relax when you stop doing what you are doing, breathe slowly and fully, and focus on how that feels. There is nothing more you need to do.
  • Listen to your body. As you are breathing, notice how your shoulders feel, whether or not your thoughts slow down, if you start to lean back in your chair. If you feel signs of your body relaxing, you know that the time has been valuable – even if it feels like nothing is happening. The “nothing” is what is most important.
  • Let go of the feeling of silliness. You are doing something of value, and most people don’t even know you are doing it!
  • Share what you are doing with your children. The earlier we talk to our youngest family members about how we are finding ways to calm down and stay calm, the more natural it will be for them to use the strategies we are showing them. Young children learn best through imitation, and the methods we are using to meet stressful situations will surely be the methods that they also use. What a gift to show them a simple and useful way to cope with stress!