With Halloween around the corner, kids’ thoughts begin turning to candy and Jack-o’-lanterns. The autumn holiday offers something else, too: an opportunity to nurture your child’s creativity and, in the process, check in with them emotionally.
Anytime children let us in on the workings of their imaginations, they’re providing us with valuable glimpses into their inner worlds. Sharing their ideas about what characters or creatures they might want to pretend to be is one such opportunity. Not only can we get a sense of the child’s current interests, we also get the chance to join them in some shared moments of imaginary play.
That may sound like a lot to attach to a fun seasonal holiday, but it’s actually an enjoyable chance for parents and children to connect and have fun, which naturally reduces stress.
The first step is encouraging the child to come up with a costume they’ll enjoy—a superhero? A basketball star? A pirate? Then let their creativity flow as they do the work of creating the costume on their own, from stuff around the house or gathered from nature. Sure, you could order a costume online or run to Target, but it’s remarkable what a child can create just from odds and ends sitting around. And let yourself off the hook if you are a perfectionist (as I was) and want your child to have the best costume. A piece of fabric becomes a cape; a simple sheet makes a perfect ghost outfit; a few pieces of grandma’s costume jewelry transform a child into a princess or a queen. A stick becomes a pirate’s sword or a golf club.
Children are naturally creative! Let them work on their own (offering support as they need it) and observe what kind of character your child becomes.
Then the real fun begins: In the days leading up to Halloween, take the opportunities to engage in some imaginary play with your child. Let them play their costumes, in character (or characters), and simply follow the child’s lead. It’s in this kind of play that they let their guard down and we discover what the child is working on developmentally. That’s one reason the American Academy of Pediatrics says play is one of the best things we can do to nurture our children’s development.
Following the child’s lead, become your own character and just go along for the journey! Take note of what the child’s character says and does, how the character moves his or her body. Watching children create their scenarios and images, we get a glimpse into the child’s internal life. Maybe the child becomes a superhero who’s battling bad guys. That’s a common theme for kids who feel a desire to become more powerful and assertive in real life. Maybe your child is a puppy or a kitten who will crawl into your lap and let you pet her, offering great moments for connection that bolsters underlying vulnerability.
Don’t just watch—engage! Let loose! These last couple of years have presented all sorts of challenges for parents and children alike. There’s no better time for kids and adults alike to enjoy some escape, play, and just plain fun. Whether or not your family “does” Halloween, I hope the season brings moments to slow down together, relate, and share moments of joy—the world’s most potent stress reliever. Enjoy!