The Building Blocks of Halloween; Kids, Costumes and Character

Halloween is such a magic opportunity for parents. With the possible exception of birthdays, Halloween gets the most preparation and planning on the part of my kids of any day on the calendar!

As a parent I love Halloween even more than I did as a kid because it is a time we get to say yes with abandon. YES we can buy that candy at the store. YES we can make a mess with decorations all over the porch. YES you can wear that. YES you can ask strangers for candy! And then eat it! The only hard line most parents in Pittsburgh have to draw is about throwing on a coat. Since we often deal with cold and even snow by the end of October, most kids trick-or-treat with an umbrella or a jacket. That is, unless you are a 9-16 year old with an awesome costume and a mile-wide stubborn streak.

This does not have to be a day (or week!) only for permissiveness. We can use this fantastic experience as a way to sneak some great character-building lessons into our kids' Halloween experiences. Since our children are supremely motivated to celebrate, capitalize on their enthusiasm to encourage strides in their respect, responsibility and resilience.

1. Costume choices

Halloween gives our kids a chance at experimentation. This is a wonderful experience, as they try on the "skin" of superheroes, celebrities, mythical characters and cartoons. But what, as one parent wrote in last year to ask me, should a Mom do when her 10 year old daughter wanted to dress as a twerking Miley Cyrus?

  • Ask good questions: Why do you want to be her/wear that/do this? And listen to the answers, you may be surprised by what you hear.
  • Encourage creativity: Ask your child to take that character they want to emulate and add some of their own personality to it in some way, really make it their own.
  • Discuss the limits: You don't need to allow any costume your child considers, but use the conversation to help your child understand your values, and your respect for your child and his or her reputation in the community, or role as a leader in your family. Use this as a chance to explain what you do admire about your child and don't admire about that character, and why you believe it's not a good fit.

So what can 10 year old twerking Miley's mom do? She can ask for alternatives, or she can allow her daughter to dress as a 10 year old Miley Cyrus. Then the issue is about age, and not about the desire her daughter has to try out being a particular character.

2. Reverse Trick-or-Treating

This idea I have to credit to circumstance, and the enthusiasm of kids for costumes. We were walking home from my son’s preschool a few years ago in mid-October, when some of the folks sitting outside a senior center asked him about his costume for Halloween. He described his excitement about being a soccer star, and they asked if he would come back and show them. Get into his costume early? My son was thrilled!

On the afternoon of Halloween, a few hours before official T-or-T kickoff, he put on his costume and we dressed up his baby brother and headed out the door.  On the way, he grabbed his candy bag and filled it up with candy from our bin.  “For the people, because I don’t think they can go out in their wheelchairs.”  We wandered around the common areas of the senior center passing out candy, and bringing many smiles.

So now it is a holiday tradition that our boys (and their friends, this tradition is magnetic) look forward to almost as much as the candy grabbing.  At one of the kid’s suggestion we added pretzel bags to our treats, since some of the seniors turned down candy. We go Reverse Trick-or-Treating the morning or afternoon of Halloween (or the day before, nobody is too picky) and show off costumes and meet new friends, and give out treats.

3. Costumed Independence

Do you have a child who wants to fly free this Halloween? The rush of trick-or-treating is enhanced by the excitement of (finally!) being allowed to go with friends, without parents waiting at the end of every walkway. How do you decide if your child is ready for that privilege?

  • Consider the (likely) risks. As parents, we often worry about things that are – let's face it – just not going to happen. So don't stress about alien abduction, but do list what you are thinking could perhaps happen.
  • Play some "what if?" with your tween or teen. "What if you got separated from your friends?" "What if you got lost?" "What if someone told you the candy was inside and you had to come in to get it?" If your child has solid, practical answers to these questions, she may be ready.l
  • Try out some autonomy beforehand. Let your child know that you need to see some particular signs of his growing responsibility this month before Halloween. If he can achieve those goals that you set for him, trick-or-treating without you would be a great reward!

Halloween is a golden chance for parents to encourage the behavior we want to see in our children. Happy trick-or-treating, and here's hoping we get a beautiful and moonlit night for our adventures!

Deborah Gilboa, M.D., aka “Dr. G,” is an industry leading parenting expert, family physician, international speaker, author and media expert.  Her new book Get the Behavior You Want… Without Being the Parent You Hate! launched on September 10.   For additional information about Doctor G visit her website at