October 23, 2013

Halloween – an opportunity for parents

It’s kind of strange that we put so little thought into what is – for kids – the most important holiday of their year. Ask a kid how important Halloween is to them compared to other holidays. Halloween is big. Really big.

Why? Obviously there’s all that sugar, which pretty much every child craves. Secondly – and perhaps as motivating – is the chance to disguise oneself, to be somebody else for a night. This is a lot of fun. Grownups should try it.

Which is part of my point here. I suggest that you find a costume, put it on and go out trick-or-treating with your child, everybody in costume. Leave the fuddy-duddy non-costume parent at home to give out the candy. There is usually one of those.

The parent who dons the costume is the one who’s going to have fun – and this is the important part – and do some powerful relationship-building with the kids. It starts in the costume planning stage. The more effort you put into this, the more you get out of it in relationship credit with your kids. If you’re going to don a costume as well, then you get to plan the costume thing together. And please don’t just go to Shoppers at the last minute for your costumes.

Find the time to do costume research together. Just what do these characters wear? And carry? That can happen on-line, but it becomes more fun when you go buy the stuff you need to make the costumes. Together. Yes, I said make them. And no, you don’t have to sew. Scissors, fabric and a glue gun will suffice for concocting pretty well anything. Plus maybe some fun stuff like gowns (for a princess) or suit jackets (for a military officer) or fur coats (for an animal) from a second-hand store. Sparkles from a craft store are always useful.

Is this starting to sound like a lot of work?

That’s the point. Think of a couple of Saturday afternoons or a Thursday after work. It ends up being not about the costumes but rather about the bonding that happens when you do a fun project with your kid. Halloween is a precious opportunity for building that kind of connection.

Then you both put your costumes on a go out together. You wait at the foot of each driveway and do the requisite ooh-ing and ah-ing at their loot from every house. This too makes Halloween way more fun for your child because instead of doing your usual tut-tutting about too much sugar, you’re joining their party. Which they love.

Next step is when they get home with all that garbage that will rot their teeth and send their blood sugar to Everest…. and back.

This is where you want to intervene and use parental control. Please don’t. Walk away. Grit your teeth and think before you act. What is the result of trying to control how much candy they eat and when? You know the answer. It becomes another battle. It becomes homework, the internet and TV. And more important, you deprive your child of the opportunity to learn some judgment.

So let it go. When they come home with that full bag of disgusting candy, tell them it’s theirs to do with as they wish, and that you hope they’ll be able to make good decisions. They’ll be shocked, delighted and confused.

Their first reaction will be YIPPEE. And over-consumption.

And then they’ll start to learn some stuff about how it feels to eat too much candy. Given siblings, there will be some serous trading and some conflict. They’ll learn from that too.

By a week or two after Halloween they’ll likely have forgotten the stash of candy; what they will never forget is what they learned about how to manage something that’s really fun and not good for you. They’ll have made some bad decisions – which is 1) really hard for parents to watch and 2) the only way humans learn. And they’ll have learned from their mistakes. This experience will help them learn self-regulation – which will stand them in very good stead in a few years when bad stuff like alcohol and drugs enter their world. So use Halloween well; don’t waste this rich parenting opportunity. Carpe Diem.

Costumes and Sugar - Parenting challenges come in two's on Halloween!

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