Halloween may seem like a rather frivolous opportunity for kids to basically run around, get candy and have fun (and in some ways, yes—it ever-so-gloriously is), but it can be much, much more.
As I look back on my childhood, I remember the absolute thrill I felt every time my mother asked that momentous question-- What do you want to be for Halloween this year? So often we ask children what they want to be when they grow up (which in their estimation is still a couple of lifetimes away), but for this one time a year, they get to decide what they want to be right now. As much as it may appear to just be a festive holiday based on play-acting and chocolate (ah…chocolate…..), Halloween is actually a wonderful opportunity for you to guide the formation of your child’s thought processes and creative thinking skills that they will use throughout their entire lives. Rather than automatically grabbing something off the rack at Walmart or Target, consider the long-reaching benefits that taking a DIY approach will give your kids:
Sometimes your child will know absolutely exactly what they want to be, and sometimes they need a little encouragement (in this case, it’s helpful to ask about things they generally like--- do they have a favorite sport? Story? Food?) Sometimes they will come up with something and can’t quite communicate it (“Mommy, I want to be a unicorn princess with fairy wings with a dress that’s purple but it’s pink too. And also it’s blue. And I want all that on the wings too.” ), so in these cases encouraging them to make a drawing of what they want can be helpful (plus it makes an adorable keepsake for the future). Even if you are pulling existing items out of their closet, it helps to show them the design process and how things turn from an idea to a plan to execution, which will help your child in their future career as an architect, engineer, fashion designer, etc.
At some point, your child(ren) will probably present an idea that seems just overwhelming, but instead of saying an automatic “no” and that it’s too expensive, too hard, or takes too much time, try to explain to them that the idea might need to be simplified and ask for their ideas on how that might be done. Children are seldom unwilling to share their ideas and opinions, and having a grownup invite them to provide insight makes them feel important and valuable to the creation process. You, of course, should throw your own ideas in too (maybe instead of you being shaped like a cupcake, you could dress in your pink tutu outfit and we can pin cupcake drawings on it!), and that teaches them the process of collaboration (a skill which your future Broadway producer will find very helpful).
If your child is indecisive or torn between two much-loved ideas, consider a “fusion” costume (e.g. if they’re trying to choose between soccer player and basketball player, use half of each or do a generic shirt with different balls stuck all over it, do Cinderella wearing Wonder Woman’s bracelets and tiara, Snow White wearing a Supergirl cape, etc.) Also try not to be afraid of conceptual costumes – if the answer to What do you want to be? is “Sparkles!!”, it’s okay that Party City doesn’t have a Sparkles costume, because you probably have a princess dress, those glittery shoes from Christmas, and Mommy’s sequined shawl from that wedding last summer that will more than do the trick. You can also do the reverse-- if your child wants to be something complicated (I want to be a penny!), consider the essential concept of what that is and how you might translate it to something more do-able (again, ask your child for suggestions—they may surprise you). Demonstrating this “maybe it’s not either-or; maybe it can be and” principle sets the mental stage for your child to develop a world outlook that incorporates that type of thinking in much bigger decisions (“So what if that job doesn’t exist? I’ll go out and make it exist!” or “Can I be a doctor and a painter? A mom and a CEO? An actress and a singer and a dancer? Of course I can!”)
CREATING A POINT OF DIFFERENCE
If your child wants to be a regular cowboy or fairy or Iron Man, consider helping them think about ways to differentiate themselves from the other twenty cowboys and fairies and Iron Men who will be out and about. Even if you need to grab a costume off the rack, there are probably ways to make it unique (for Iron Man, you could add little tap lights to the gloves so he can make them glow just like Tony Stark, for the cowboy, maybe he could be a cowboy riding a horse or be a zombie cowboy who lost the gunfight, for the fairy, maybe get some simple dollar tree wings and add some extra glitter, sequins, and jewels to make them one-of-a-kind). Helping your kids to think of ways to stand out from the crowd (and that it’s a good thing to do so) will not only help them in their current lives, but also in the future when they have to explain to an interviewer why they’re different from the other 99 internship candidates up for that position at the Mega Huge and Awesome Tech Company.
PUTTING IT TOGETHER
Departing from the off-the-rack choices does, of course, take more time and effort, but it can be some of the most enjoyable and valuable time you spend with your kids. Not super crafty? Time for more creative thinking. Ask one of your friends who is super crafty for ideas and advice, go searching on Pinterest and Google for blogs and articles with ideas and how-to videos, and consider things like sourcing the bulk of the costume from a thrift store so you don’t have to build it from the ground up (if your daughter wants to be Ursula from The Little Mermaid, you can likely find a purple prom dress at Goodwill for around $10, and that’s 80% of your costume done right there). If you aren’t a skilled sewer, remember that these are costumes (which don't need to be as sturdy as regular clothes they'll wear over and over again) and that glue or stitch witchery will probably accomplish most of what you need done. Make sure to allow enough runway to put it all together (and to allow for some mistakes along the way)…. It is absolutely fine to start asking your kids what they want to be for Halloween in July and to use nights and weekends to work on it bits at a time (and to explain to them that once the scissors (and the wallet) come out, this is the final final costume choice that they’re committing to). This also demonstrates time management and project planning, which will help when your child is running their own business someday.
Creating Halloween costumes together is a fun and fantastic teaching opportunity—yes, on the surface it’s a silly and exciting time where you're up to your elbows in hot glue, felt, and sequins and get to teach your daughter how to add extra sparkles to her own fairy wings, but it also allows you to show your child that with some out-of-the-box thinking, flexibility, and good planning, they can be whatever they want to be-- both far in the future when chasing their dream opportunities and this Saturday night when they’re chasing friends down the street, yelling about who got the most Milky Ways.