Invest in Kids would like to share with parents some ways in which Comfort, Play & Teach: A Positive Approach to ParentingTM can be used to celebrate Halloween.
Children will have very different reactions to costumes and trick or treating. Some with more fearful and shy temperaments may cling closely to the parent or show obvious signs of discomfort if the masks are scary. Other children with a more easy-going temperament and who enjoy anything new, may show great excitement or react in a neutral way. Here are some things to consider as you deal with your child’s emotions:
Remember that your child’s fear is very real to her, even if you don’t really understand what she is afraid of, or you don’t believe that something like trick or treating should frighten a child. Never belittle the fear as a way of forcing your child to overcome it. Telling your child, “Don’t be so silly, that’s only a person dressed up like a monster,” won’t be helpful. Listen carefully, acknowledge the worry or fear and find a way to reduce the anxiety e.g., reading a picture book on the topic, singing a song that is comforting, giving a cuddle and a kiss.
Prepare your child for things you expect will be scary for him. Talk to him in advance of the event about how children and people like to dress up in funny and scary-looking costumes. Give your child an opportunity to voice any concerns and together you can develop a plan to help him cope when he comes face-to-face with the source of his fear. For example, making up funny names for monsters that he can use when he spots one: “There goes Victor the Vile Vampire or Frankie Frankenstein”. Just being able to label and use words allows your child to exert some power and manage negative emotions.
Let your child decide what the jack-o’-lantern’s face should look like. This is an opportunity for the child to explore such emotions as happiness, anger, or surprise. As you design the face together, discuss what shape the mouth, eyes and nose should take to reflect a happy or mad jack-o’-lantern.
When you comfort your frightened child, you are helping him feel safe. This sense of security gives him the courage he needs to eventually face and conquer his fears. It's normal for all youngsters to be afraid of something at one point or another. Fears seem to be especially common between three and six years of age, when a child's ability to think about and remember scary things increases.
When children play, they are practicing skills in every area of development: thinking, solving problems, talking, moving, sensing, cooperating and making moral judgments. This natural form of learning is very similar to the real world, because instead of learning one thing at a time, children are engaged in several things at once—learning new ideas, objects and playing with friends. Playing is also fun. It makes children happy and leads to easier and more effective learning. Typical Halloween activities are another opportunity for you and your child to play. Here are some ideas:
Let your child decide what he would like to “be” for Halloween. Then, take the opportunity to plan together how the costume could be made. For example, if she wants to be a computer, let her design the box with the appropriate buttons, knobs and pictures. Using one’s imagination to create a product requires a lot of creativity and thinking. The actual creation necessitates another set of skills such as trial and error, problem-solving, and fine motor coordination. At the end, there is the emotional satisfaction of having made something that you really wanted.
Cleaning the seeds out of the pumpkin is a wonderful opportunity for a young child to get his hands dirty and explore new textures while preparing it for the carving. Once the pumpkin is ready, your child can help you with the jack-o’-lantern’s face.
Make up stories about the jack-o’-lantern. After the carving is finished, encourage your child to make up a story about why the jack-o’-lantern is happy or mad or surprised. Start off the story-making with the pumpkin lying in the field waiting to be picked and taken to market. Encourage your child’s ideas and join in on the fun.
Everyday routines and activities can be used to give your child practice in communicating, thinking creatively and abstractly, paying attention and making judgments. Here are a few fun activities related to Halloween that exercise your child’s newly emerging skills.
Bake pumpkin seeds and explore numbers and textures. After the seeds are separated from the pumpkin pulp and cleaned, ask your child to place them one by one on a cookie sheet. Have your child count along with you as the rows are created. A very young preschooler may not know all the numbers but will learn as he listens. An older preschooler will begin to understand the concept of numbers as she feels, sees and hears one-to-one correspondence between the seeds and the numerals. As you enjoy eating the seeds, explore how the cooking process changed the seeds from being soft and wet to hard and dry. Science and math can’t get much better than this.
Turn the candy and treats bag into a sorting game. Youngsters are overwhelmed by the amount and variety of treats. You can help by asking your child to sort or group the treats. For example, all the chocolate bars in one pile, the lollipops in another, the chips in a third and so on. Older preschoolers may want to create their own category (soft, hard, crunchy or drinkable). They can then indulge according to the guidelines you set e.g. one item from the pile of hard candy and one from the soft.