For most kids, Halloween is one of the best holidays. I mean, there’s candy, cooler weather, and you get to run around outside while dressed up as your favorite character. Even for adults, Halloween is fun because you get to be someone else, even for just one night. But there's more to Halloween fun than lollipops and kids shrieking in Superman capes. There actual benefits of trick-or-treating for kids, and it may help you figure out your plans to trick-or-treat this year.
Katie Lear, a play and drama therapist, tells Romper in an email that when children put on a Halloween costume, it’s a form of role playing. “They've picked a character they connect with in some way, and they're getting a chance to see what it would be like to be that person,” she says. “Role playing allows children to try out different ways of being and interacting with the world, and to practice behaviors that might not be in their everyday repertoire yet.” Lear gives the example of a child who loves superheroes putting on a superhero costume. “That child gets a chance to experience what it's like to be strong, brave, and powerful,” she says. “A child who disguises herself as a villain has an opportunity to express aggression and anger in a safe way; putting on a costume allows us to literally try these different traits on for size, in a safe and playful way.”
But it's also a huge part of your child growing. Clinical psychologist Carla Manly tells Romper, “Learning to embrace the power of imagination is an important part of the developmental process. And, returning to reality — knowing that we cannot live in a dreamy or other-worldly space all the time — is a corresponding aspect of that developmental journey.” She also says that dressing up and playing pretend can offer relief, especially in the stress-filled world right now.
So even if you're down to put your kid in a costume, but are uncertain about going outside of your home this holiday, it might help to know that there are positive social aspects to the trick-or-treating part of Halloween for both adults and children, according to Manly. “Receiving little trick-or-treaters is a highlight for many adults who enjoy seeing the littles ones in their neighborhood as they grow and change,” she says. “Children benefit by having additional time to embody their chosen ‘Halloween character’ while also displaying costumes to adoring family, friends, neighbors, and strangers.” Manly adds that children also learn more about their neighborhood each year, and will learn to trust and navigate the world under the gaze and security of their parents.
“And, of course, children absolutely love reaping the rewards of their efforts as they take home a surplus of treats that would be forbidden at other times of the year,” she says.
Knowing all of the benefits and how good this could be for our children and ourselves, how can we give this to our kids and remain safe? Manly suggests that children can still benefit from dressing up and enjoying the festivities of Halloween from their own front yards. Many neighborhoods are trying drive-by trick-or-treating, which sill of course be different, but still gives your kids the chance to dress up, play pretend, and enjoy some treats.
Manly also suggests going all in this year with your kid's costume, too. Amplify the theme all Halloween day. “For example, if your child chooses to be a wizard, you can create ‘wizard pancakes’ for breakfast. If you’ve a little monster on your hands, ‘monster sandwiches’ at lunch can feed your child’s belly and imagination. If your child is disguised as an alien, help your child create a short ‘alien vocabulary list’ to use for the day,” she says.
Lear also suggests FaceTiming grandparents or other family members in costume, so someone can “appreciate their costume close-up.” And talk to your neighbors. Many people are trying new ways to distribute candy, like through long PVC pipes so you can stay 6-feet away from each other, or through goody bags they line up on their front porch.
You can even bring back old-fashioned games like bobbing for apples, corn hole, and carving contests at home, as well as downplay the importance of treats from outsiders and instead focus on creating safe treats at home, like "witch's brew apple cider, cowboy pizza, or Wonder Woman cupcakes," Manly suggests.
As far as Halloween being a bit different this year, Lear says, “It might not be quite as beneficial for self esteem-building or for giving kids a sense of control, but taking part in any kind of ritual is good for kids, especially during chaotic times like this pandemic. I'm sure that as long as there is candy, everyone will still be happy." And remember that playing dress-up can go beyond the holiday. Keep a box of costumes nearby and let your kids escape into their imagination whenever they can.