Taking your little one to trick and treat for the first or second time? Not sure how they will do with ghouls and costumes? Here are some tips for having a fun and successful, first (or second or third or etc!) Halloween!
1. Prep and Plan
Think about where you might take them and whether it is age-appropriate ie. dark neighborhood vs lighted mall, will there be more teenagers likely to dress up as axe murderers or cute little toddlers dressed up as princesses? Will you have a rule on how much candy they can have or when or where?
If so, remind them of the rules and expectation BEFORE the roll-on-the-floor-injustice and screaming. Sometimes, it can be as simple as reminding them that there will be lots of people and they have to hold your hand so you can keep them safe. Prepping them and planning your outing will not only make a world of difference to the outcome but also help with framing your mind on what to expect and how you might want to handle it so you can stay a calm, confident, leader.
2. Acknowledge and Empathise
If they get spooked, acknowledge whatever it is that they might tell you even if it doesn’t make sense to you. Last year, my daughter was absolutely terrified when one of the shopkeepers dressed as the ghost face from Scream tried to scare her (whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy) at a mall trick-or-treating event. She panicked and froze because as a 1 1/2 year little big girl, she had no concept that it was just a mask.
Instead of telling her it was nothing to be afraid of, I acknowledged her fears and gave her space to just safely cry while holding her. I remained calm and confident and didn’t try to distract her or poo-poo it away. Instead, I just let her process those so very big emotions. Asking and echoing what she was scared of and why back to her as she deescalated.
3. Explain and Empower
Once she was calmer, we went through again what happened. Then, I showed her how a mask worked. I let her try one on, pointing them out on the other children and palyed peek-a-boo by making it fun and less scary. I also asked her what she could do if it happened again, leading her to find solutions that would empower her to feel like she was in control of the situation and outcome. A very necessary skill for adulting!
4. Connect and Refocus
After she had her moment and I heard her, we continued trick or treating when she was ready. Although she was still a bit hesitant, I reminded her of the solutions she came up with “find mama”, say “no thank you, I don’t like it”, and “walk away” whenever she would bring it up. I also pointed out the fun things about trick or treating, other non-scary costumes she would enjoy, the little kids playing with each other, colorful balloons to also add to her narrative of what the experience would be.
5. Debrief and Relax
This is such an important step whether on the way home or when you get home before bed. So often, our conversations before bedtime are what really gives me a glimpse into my daughter’s day and the things that she holds sacred. I usually start by asking her what she did today, and she will tell me all the things she remembers and which are the things that made her really happy, sad, scared, angry, upset, or excited. Talking them through what happened in the day in a relaxed setting also makes a significant difference in her nighttime sleep!
6. Give it time and process, process, process!
For weeks after, every time we went to that mall (and we go to that mall a lot!!!) she would talk about what happened and how scared she was. Again and again, we would walk through the whole process again, giving her space to process, echo and empathise her feelings, explain and empower.
If you view it as your toddler aimlessly just repeating the same phrase or story six hundred thousand times a day, it’s easy to get frustrated and impatient and so sick of talking about it. But if you come from a place of understanding and empathy, you will be able to recognise that she might need to talk about it 100 times to understand it and feel like she has some sort of control over the situation.
Have you ever played and replayed a situation in your mind just trying to understand it? Instead of an aimless headless chicken dance, count down instead of count up! So hey only 50 more times and she’ll get it not this is the freaking 50th time we’ve talked about it.
And before you know it, she’ll look back on Halloween and remember trick or treating as the BEST DAY EVER!!