we can’t all help but stop and think about dressing up and becoming someone different, even if only for a day. For young children, fantasy play/dress-up is a crucial part of development. It provides personal expression and allows children to try out different roles. It helps the child distinguish between reality and fantasy; provides for children’s social adaptation; provides a dynamic for learning and enhances creativity through interaction, transformation and imagination.
But… Halloween and dress-up can be scary for some kids. Young children are still trying to figure out the difference between real and pretend, reality and fantasy. Most children at three and four have a pretty good idea that there is no such thing as monsters or ghosts, but when they come face-to-face with them on Halloween night, they aren’t quite sure. Remember, young children are fooled by appearances and Halloween is all about switching appearances.
The question of “Who am I?” haunts all of us throughout our live, but for young children the formation of identity is an integral part of each and every day. Halloween is a good vehicle (if not perfect) for children to play out fantasies of who they are, who they might be and who they might become. Children will explore the idea of “Am I still me even if I am dressed up as someone else?” “Will I be able to go back to being the old me?” “Will you go back to being my mommy when you take your mask off?” You can see how the possible answers to these questions can be frightening to children.
Reassuring children that it is “only pretend” or “I know it is you inside that bunny costume” may reassure children that the adults in their lives haven’t forgotten who they are even if they are dressed-up. Repetition will help as well. You could put a mask on and then take it often repeatedly in order to reinforce the idea that it is not permanent and you are still you underneath the costume.
Halloween can be exhilarating for some children- being surrounded by the scary, funny, strange and ingenious costumes of Halloween night. But for others, it may be more than they are ready for. Keep it easy. Keep it real and most of all just because you are ready for your children to participate in these long-honored traditions, doesn’t mean they are.