Resiliency – an unexpected consequence of Halloween

There is no doubt Halloween is fun! The overt permission to pretend to be whatever you want is liberating. There is no judgement. We get to celebrate! Loads of parties and decorations fill the day. And of course, the sweets! Not only the trick-or-treats but the cupcakes and cookies designed to look like ghosts and pumpkins are all part of the day.

What may not be so obvious is that Halloween is a chance to take risks and experience success by taking those risks. To some, putting on a costume and being nervous about how your peers react, or ringing a stranger’s doorbell require a degree of bravery. These are part of the Halloween tradition and helps build resiliency “muscles.” Often, the fun distracts from Halloween being considered an “effort.” However, to some kids, this is an extremely overstimulating day and there is a need to acknowledge and applaud our kid’s efforts.

I have two stories to share that inspired this article. First, my 8-year-old has finally embraced the Halloween tradition of dressing-up. At the young age of two, I would ask him “What do you want to be for Halloween?” and his response was “Just me.” No costume. I was quite impressed with his strong sense of self, but my heart also ached as I really wanted him to have a chance to express himself creatively.

He finally became interested in super heroes at the ages of six and seven and decided dressing-up for Captain American was “ok.” You could tell, though, he was pretty insecure being in that costume while trick or treating both years and he was hesitant to allow himself the full joy of experiencing Halloween.

I’m happy to say this year he’s embraced Harry Potter and confidently “owns” the character right down to the forehead scar, making his own magic wand, muttering the magic spells and wearing the costume nearly every day since it arrived.

My point is, he had to grow into it, in his own time. I gently applauded his risk in dressing up. There’s a fine line of coddling our kids and being overly verbose with compliments and taking things for granted when they need acknowledgement. Consider telling them how impressed you are that they dressed up and participated. It can be the encouragement they need to embrace Halloween.

My second story comes from eldest. As you may have gathered from other posts, he struggles with anxiety, new things, and perfectionism. Halloween can be overwhelming, leaving him exhausting and a nervous wreck. It’s critical for kids like him to keep a light-hearted ambiance about Halloween since the costumes, unpredictable nature of the evening, sugar, and noise can be too overwhelming.

For many years, Halloween and most holidays have resulted in tears, near panic attacks, and isolationism. As I’ve become a more mindful parent seeking to help my son’s challenge with this, I found being more patient and taking the time to talk about what things he may see, hear, and experience are important. It’s also important SHOW him how fun it is to dress up and DEMONSTRATE trick-or-treating several times before expecting him to do this. For these kinds of kids, it is a monumental task just ringing the doorbell and asking the question “trick or treat?”

Sadly, I’ve found myself not always taking my own advice and the inevitable meltdown occurs. There are several years I was impatient and shooed the kids out the door to go have fun. I didn’t take the time to consider the intensity it had on my eldest son. I was critical when he became overwhelmed. I’m not proud of this.

Thankfully, the last few years I tapped into his challenge and recognize how intense Halloween has been for him. I’ve changed my ways. I now allow him to be very deliberate about preparing for the holiday and try to be extra organized to help with predictability. I also try to take the time to talk about what he may experience with what he sees and hears. Because he’s older, I’ve helped him realized how sugar can trigger being overwhelmed and he’s pretty good at managing his sugar intake, even on Halloween. I dress up and am silly and not so pressured with time.

I’m happy to report he is brave enough to have a scary costume derived from his own imagination and go Zombie hunting at one of the local corn fields this year. This is the kid who could barely ring the doorbell, let alone go on the porch that had a spooky decoration! I attribute this change to some maturity and parental mindfulness and purposeful guidance.

The “walk-away point” in sharing these stories is if you feel like Halloween is a bit tricky for your kids, simply tell them how proud or impressed you are with them trying something new and how much you like their decisions and modeling having fun. It may not seem like dressing-up or ringing the doorbell is a big risk, but to some, it takes all their might. Knowing they were successful and were recognized for these efforts builds their resiliency, often without us realizing – and it can make all the world. Happy Halloween!

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