Emily Writes' kids getting hyped for Halloween (supplied)

Emily Writes: In defence of Halloween

Halloween in New Zealand is still not really a thing. But Emily Writes thinks it maybe should be.

I’ll admit it, I love a good dress up. I was easy to win over when it came to Halloween. I always bought lollies hoping children would come to my door even before having little ones of my own. Unfortunately, I’ve always lived in typical Wellington houses with hundreds of dodgy steps so my Halloweens before kids were spent eating a family block of chocolate on my own at 10pm, finally sure no cute little witches and ghosts would be on my doorstep.

I still liked Halloween, but it was nothing compared to how much I like it now. I know this is not a universal feeling among parents, but I really believe Halloween can be so much fun with children.

My first Halloween post-child involved me forcing my month-old baby into a penguin costume as my husband rolled his eyes. It was totally worth it and I have no regrets. Our second Halloween together he was a carrot – I have always had a soft spot for children as vegetables. On our third Halloween together I was very pregnant and he dressed himself as a zombie Fireman Elsa. Then came a Zombie Lion. The new baby was Pea and Ham soup (I dressed the Ham as a Pea – get it?). Since then we have had a shark and a flower clown and a robot horse. Now the kids are old enough to really get into it and this year they’re A Bubble and a “bunch of flowers”.

But I get that many people – maybe most? – don’t really like Halloween. And I am not sure I can convince anyone to love it, but I can give you a few reasons why I think it’s kind of great.

Kids get to be creative

My son has spent two weeks on his bubble costume. For a while he kept thinking he would be a rainbow. Then he would return to the bubble idea. Not bubbles – a single bubble. It has been a challenge. I have enjoyed watching him try out different ideas (hula hoop + Glad Wrap did not work) until finally he settled on bubble-wrap and potentially a tin-foil hat. Costumes don’t have to be store bought; they can be created at home together with things you have lying around. We are using fake floral leis and a green tutu for the flower costume for my three-year-old. He has been very involved and it has cost about $5. They’re excited and proud. Halloween has given them the chance to be creative and show off their hard work.

Emily’s kids in Halloween costumes past, including Zombie Fireman Elsa, right. (supplied)

You get to meet your neighbours and create some community

It seems a bit strange to me that people rail against Halloween because it’s “not safe” to be out on the streets. Surely it’s safer for your children to meet the neighbours and build a community? On our street we have dozens of kids and they all mostly know each other, but Halloween gives us a chance to catch up on the street and compare costumes. Meeting elderly folks who are excited to chat to kids is lovely too. After last year’s Halloween trick-or-treating we began to visit an elderly neighbour more, bringing her muffins and cookies. Halloween allowed us to meet her.

Kids can practise their manners 

My kids learn you only take one lolly. You say please and thank you – or you get your lolly taken away. They practise manners at every house they visit by speaking clearly and saying “nice words”. When an adult barks through the door “GO AWAY” kids can learn to practise their manners by saying “thank you” and leaving.

It can encourage confidence in children

One of my kids is very extroverted, one isn’t. Halloween gives my shy child the chance to connect with others. He has to say “Trick or treat please” to get a lolly so it’s a good incentive to use his words. He then also has to say “thank you, have a nice day”. Practising talking to neighbours is a great, safe way for my child to learn to be a bit more confident. Hopefully this confidence will carry through to kindy and eventually school so he can ask for things he needs when he needs them.

It makes children and families visible

In a world where children are being increasingly encouraged to be seen and not heard isn’t it kind of nice to have happy children running up and down the street? When parents feel they can’t go to cafes and restaurants for fear of getting death stares if their child laughs too loud, isn’t it cool families can head out in costume to the park or their local school for a play?

It’s fun

Yeah, this is just a simple one. Kids love it. And it’s kind of hard to be a kid. Shouldn’t we be making as many opportunities as possible for kids to enjoy themselves?

Zombie Lion (supplied)

It’s not compulsory

Really, nobody will mind if you don’t take part. You can always put a sign up saying “No Trick or Treaters”. We usually avoid any houses that aren’t decorated. It’s OK to not want to take part. As an anxious person I find parts of it quite stressful and I certainly understand people feeling anxious about kids knocking on their door. I also know it can be hard for children will allergies and adults and children with sensory disorders or ASD. I support anyone in doing what they want to do on Halloween but I hope they’ll do the same for all the kids that do want to take part.

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If you do want to “do” Halloween this year I guess I’d just say thanks! My children, and heaps of children, really, really love the day and it’s so nice to see others excited. If you’re an adult taking part, I have a few tips as well because I’m just like that:

  • In my opinion it’s OK to make kids say please and thank you and only take one lolly (but that’s just me – I see manners as a kindness, my nanna instilled that in me, and I use every opportunity I can to encourage it in my kids).
  • To support kids who have allergies you could hand out spooky pictures or spiders instead of lollies. Keep any food treats and non-food treats in separate bowls.
  • A child who takes forever to say “trick or treat” or can’t say it or spends ages choosing a lolly might have a processing disorder or speech challenges or be non-verbal. Please be patient with them. This is a learning experience for them.
  • It’s cool to not do lollies and instead do grapes or tomatoes. The kids will hate it but as a parent I like it.
  • A child without a costume might not have had help making one, or might not be able to afford one – there could be lots of reasons, but they shouldn’t feel excluded.
  • Please don’t open the door in a scary mask or try to frighten small children. Older kids love it, but most little kids can’t yet distinguish between what is pretend and what isn’t.

Finally, if you’re a parent doing Halloween, my tip is to go out early and don’t be out long. We organise a playdate so trick or treating is limited to just the houses with decorations and we try to make it more about the dressing up than the getting lollies (a work in progress because they’re six and three, so lollies are life). That saves lots of disappointment and tries to refocus things given I plan to eat all their lollies while they’re in bed. Also lots of schools and churches do Halloween events so check your local listing if you want to avoid trick or treating.

Most of all, enjoy!

Emily Writes is the editor of The Spinoff Parents. Her book Rants in the Dark is out now. Buy it here. Her second book Is it Bedtime Yet? is out now. Follow her on Facebook here.

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