Halloween and the Power of Pretend Play

As October 31st approaches and we anticipate the manic rush to wrap up our workday in time for trick-or-treating, we may overlook the very real benefits of the holiday. Halloween is one holiday that, if played “right”, gives children enormous power and excitement (not to mention the candy part). Yes--it just might be fun to be scared! I’m not talking about unpredictable, incomprehensible, out-of-control horror, but the dark, suspenseful, turns-out-ok-in-the-end scared-y type of fun.

The beloved and wise Mr. Rogers says: “It can be fun to be scared, as many of us will recall from Halloween past. But if we think back, we’ll probably agree that there are two things that made it possible for that scariness to be fun. First, that we knew we were safe because someone we loved was nearby. Second, we knew that whatever was scaring us was only pretend.”

As The Fred Rogers Company Neighborhood explains, that isn’t always easy with young children, who are learning and sorting the world into real and pretend almost every day. Pretend can be frightening to small children who seem to forget they are pretending and--whoosh--find themselves in the middle of a big scary story and can’t find the way out. But Halloween is a perfect time to experiment with stories and costumes. Kids can take charge of their fears and practice jumping in and out of imaginative worlds.

Parents, and caring grown-ups, play a critical role helping children find their brave inner character. As Mr. Rogers points out, children need to know the people they love are trustworthy and there to protect them when they’ve had too much. Courage comes not from eliminating fear, but from conquering it. So, pull out the swords and Teflon armor and face down those monsters and creepy crawlies that come out in the dark.  As a working mom, it is that same courage we have when we conquer a big presentation or lead a sales call, that we hope to instill in our kids daily and can encourage especially on Halloween.

Halloween is the holiday that bolsters a child’s power with magic and resourceful characters. When Halloween is over, don’t put the costumes away. Put them in the dress-up box so your child knows the power of pretend play all year long.

For more practice, check out the Scaredy Squirrel books for brilliant problem solving from a panicking little squirrel who discovers he can’t control everything in life.