Ah Halloween. I love the holidays and Halloween is an amazing way to kick off the season! It’s full of magic, mystery, and make believe. Trick or treating brings us closer to our communities, and costumes let us unleash our imaginations. With all the dress up play and candy involved, we would like to think it would be an easy favorite for our youngest children, but it can take some time to grow on our little ones. Costumes are scary, candy is either a choking hazard or sugar crash in the making, and our littlest ones will protest all you will try to dress them up as. Sigh. There must be an easier way to share our love of this holiday.
Doug’s first year he went as a dragon. Yeah that head piece and those cute booties didn’t last long. The next year I thought I knew better. We put him in a suit, and messed up his hair to be Donald Trump. (Hehe) While I did trick him into the suit the first time it was a struggle to get him in it again.
This year, I thought I had nailed it. I would put him in normal clothes and new winter boots, to be the man with the yellow hat. He loves to wear his boots, and he loves to wear my gardening hat. Wrong again! After a full melt down, and a lollipop bribe, he only wanted to wear his skeleton pjs.You can see the yellow clothes cast about the bathroom and the lollipop bribe being consumed in victory. I thought I had another year to control his choice of costume, but I knew I was in trouble when he sang “dress up any way you choose, find the way that’s right for you” from Daniel Tiger. It is hard as a parent to relinquish your control over your children. I had our whole family’s costumes planned around a Curious George theme and they all fell apart without his participation. I thought I could convince him or even trick him later in the week to wear my choice of costume, but the more I talked to him, the more he stated, “I just be spooky skeleton.” So I shifted my gears to respect his choice and reimagined our family’s costumes.
I am so glad I did! Doug loved every bit of his skeleton costume, as well as my Mommy the mummy get up. Sadly my mummy wrapping was last minute and not fully secured and fell off before even leaving the house. This was not my best Halloween, but Halloween is no longer about me. It is about passing down the love of this holiday to my son. By listening to Doug I learned more about him than I would have if I imposed my own wishes on him. I learned he understood the concept of dress up and was ready to find a way that was right for him. I learned he is not afraid of creepy figures, like skeletons and mummies, and will most likely enjoy watching scary movies with his dad in the coming years.
However, this Halloween was hard for me because his independence took me by surprise. I put a lot of thought, planning, and money into our Curious George costumes. I then put more planning and further effort into a second costume only to have that also fall apart on me. It was emotionally taxing, but also a learning experience. Do not underestimate young children! Let them be involved even if you think it is beyond their comprehension. Always have a backup! The simpler your backup plan the better.
This goes well beyond Halloween costumes. Involving children in the planning process and decision making gives them a sense of control, gives them an opportunity to practice patience, and allows them to feel proud of their choices. Doug surprises me every time I give him these opportunities. Recently I let him choose a birthday present for himself at Target, of all the toys he chose a fairly simple tractor. When I tried to steer him towards toys I would have picked for him, he said no. Clothes shopping as well, if he says no to something while at the store I have learned the hard way not to buy it. He will say no to it at home too.
The general advice for allowing young children to make decisions is to give them very limited options, more than two or three options can overwhelm them. Start with simple things like what they will wear (sneakers or boots) or what they will eat (carrots or cucumbers). Increase the opportunities for kids to make their own choices, and let them learn from the choices they do make by talking through the consequences. As they grow in intelligence offer more complex choices, like what costume to wear.
While I wish I realized he was ready for this particular decision earlier, I am glad I did not enforce my will on him this year. While it may have been very disappointing to me that he would not wear the costume I picked for him, I am happy I was able to adapt to respect his wishes. Can you relate? How does early decision making play out at your house?
Further reading on decision making: