Halloween can be a magical time for young children. The chance to be a princess, a superhero, or their favorite animal. I emphasize ‘to be’. Toddlers aren’t very good at differentiating between reality and ‘pretend’. I live in a wonderful small town, best described as ‘a great place to grow up’. This is the first year I took my kids to the infamous ‘scary’ street, where the whole street goes all out with decorations, and by the time I left I was seething with rage. The theme was ‘children’s prison’ and if that wasn’t perverted enough there was a yard with John Wayne Gacy being executed (he sexually abused over 30 children and killed them over 20 years ago). Numerous tents that children were supposed to walk through filled with truly horrific scenes of gore and violence. The kids in that neighborhood were dressed up participating – I’m guessing they had no choice and had decided it was fun out of sheer self-preservation. We were trick-or-treating with a large group of kids, so I told my 7-year old daughter she couldn’t go near anything and hustled my 9-year old son out as fast as I could without humiliating him in front of his friends. Just as we exited the street I saw something which just made my blood boil – a cherubic 2-year old in a Spiderman costume, complete with superhero muscles, who was hysterical because some ghoul tried to chop his head off. And the adults with him were laughing!! I felt like punching them.
So, my newsflash for the day? Toddlers aren’t miniature adults. Seems obvious, but too often we forget that they do not have the emotional, physical or mental capabilities of an adult, or even a 7-year old. Toddlers don’t dress up as Princess Aurora or Superman, they ARE Princess Aurora or Superman. They don’t see some jerk pretending to scare a small child, they see a terrifying stuff-of-nightmares ghoul actually trying to hurt them while their parents laugh.
No matter what you are trying to teach your children, it has to be done in an age-appropriate manner. Do you send your 3-year old out the door with a backpack and say ‘good luck getting to preschool!’. No, you walk them or drive them, show them how to cross the street (over and over and over again you show them). Do you hand a 1-year old a plate with a delicious steak dinner a sharp knife and a fork and expect them to figure out how to eat without severing something vital or choking to death? Of course not! Do you toss your 2-year old in the deep end of the pool with a cheery ‘sink or swim!’. I sure hope not!
Personally I wish somedays I could put on a princess gown, pick up my magic wand and make wonderful things happen, but I’m an adult and a parent and I know the difference between ‘real’ and ‘pretend’. Don’t take your child’s childhood away from them too early. Let them revel in their world, in exploring, in learning – and give them a safe environment to learn, not a scary environment. And by the way, I won’t ever be going back to that street – seeing children being ‘tortured’ isn’t my idea of adult fun either.