Becoming a parent changes you, in ways that you never thought possible.   It goes without saying that your entire world and focus changes.  All of the sudden you start to care about things like schedules, and bedtimes.  And you worry about routine, and friendships, and whether or not you are doing a good enough job.  Are you present enough?  Are you offering enough freedom and independence? And if you indulge yourself, there is an endless supply of doubt and worry to be had. Then there are the things that pop up and blindside you – things you thought you had an idea about but were completely wrong.

For me, this was Halloween.  I was a new-ish parent with two young kids, 2 and 1.  I had bought all the Halloween decorations and even a couple of costumes for my littles.  I kept things pretty mellow and stuck with the smiling jack-o-lanterns and black cats.  I was excited to decorate our house and create memories with my kids. That is what we are supposed to do right?  I had memories of my own Halloweens as a child and couldn’t wait to get going on creating those with my own children.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I remember one afternoon walking with my daughter to our neighborhood park.  It was a cool fall day in mid-October.  Halloween decorations were out in full swing in our neighborhood.  We started walking, and only got about a half a block before she stopped all of a sudden, grabbed my hand tightly, and said, “Go home Mama?” I could see that she was nervous about something but I didn’t know what.  “No, we are going to the park remember?”  She insisted, “Go home Mama!” she said pulling me in the opposite direction.  “Baby girl, what’s wrong?” I asked.  “I scared,” she said crawling up my as if something was chasing her.  I looked up to see a skeleton hanging on the front porch of my neighbor’s house.

That skeleton knocked the sense back into me.  All of the sudden I could see our neighborhood through my daughter’s lens.  There were giant spider webs, ghosts, skeletons, creepy bloody goblins, and all kinds of spooky things.  Out of nowhere, her normal had changed.  What was once a simple enjoyable and predictable walk to the park had all of a sudden changed to something very horrifying and unpredictable.  Of course, she wanted to go home.  It was scary out there.

You see, young children are not developmentally ready for Halloween.  Their inability to decipher fantasy and reality makes Halloween very confusing and very scary for them.  What young children need is time spent in hands-on three-dimensional reality. Halloween is so far from reality, that it causes confusion, even worry and anxiety for many young children.

I never ended up decorating our house for Halloween that year, in fact, we never even bought candy or opened our door for trick-or-treaters.  Instead, we held my daughter in the night as she suffered through some awful night terrors.  We spent our days, crunching fall leaves in our little courtyard, painted pumpkins, enjoyed the pumpkin patch, and we let Halloween go.

My daughter is 6 now and Halloween still makes her nervous. I also have two younger sons (5 and 3), and while Halloween doesn’t appear to be as scary for them as it was for her we are still very conscious about how we choose to partake or not in this holiday.  In fact, we have adopted a love for celebrating the Mexican holiday Dia De Los Muertos.  It has given us the opportunity to honor and learn about our family in a real meaningful way, yet enjoy the traditions and desire to decorate and celebrate.

So this year, as Halloween approaches, I would encourage you to pay close attention, and really think about what your children are experiencing.  It’s okay to make Halloween wait.   Take solace in the fact that the time will come when your children will make Halloween memories like those ones you have from when you were a child, it just might be a few years down the road.

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