Some people believe that Halloween is merely an opportunity to dress up and get free Reese's. But if you dig a little deeper, it's clear there's so much more going on. Halloween can bring parents and kids down to the same level. An excellent excuse for adults to regress, the holiday is also an opportunity for children to learn important life skills. Thanks to trick-or-treating and the pursuit of an outstanding candy collection, kids discover the importance of role play, strategy, negotiation, and traditions.
The Art of Role Playing. What other day can you wear a bright red cape and not be ridiculed? For one night you are literally encouraged to put yourself in someone else's shoes. It doesn't matter if they're glass slippers or floppy clown shoes, this is an opportunity to think outside of the box while also accessorizing.
Some enjoy role play more than others. There are the devotees who painstakingly plan their elaborate and outrageous costumes. There are the unenthusiastic "grab a hat and call it a day" types. And of course there are the "I don't care as long as I look good" trick-or-treaters. Destined to be a bunny, cat, or beauty queen for the duration of their dress-up days, they prefer to stay in their superficial comfort zone. (I'm not pointing fingers, that was me for years until I morphed into the "grab a hat" girl.)
Costume choices give us insight into people's personal preferences -- it's pretty clear who's comfortable standing out in a crowd and who prefers to be one of the hundred Power Rangers in the cul-de-sac. Living with a costume choice for an entire evening can also be enlightening. Being a beautiful mermaid is a fabulous idea until you spend a few hours waddling around with that restrictive fin.
The Importance of Strategic Thinking. Ask any eight year old -- strategic planning skills have always led to successful trick-or-treat outcomes. The most important decision involves the candy collection container. (Hint: a pillowcase will hold much more than a molded plastic pumpkin. This is probably why only the novice carries the plastic pumpkin.) To insure a bountiful collection, you must also identify the optimal time to begin your journey. Tardy trick-or-treaters run the risk that a house has run out of treats or, worse yet, will saddle you with something they consider to be an appropriate treat substitute. In these cases, neighbors' creativity and sense of humor (or lack thereof) come to light very quickly. From stray pennies to frozen waffles, it's not always pretty.
Trick-or-treating is often the first time you learn the importance of sizing up your neighbors. Come on, it only takes one spin around the block to figure out who gives the best candy, and whether it was worth it to hike up that steep driveway. And the fate-sealing apple and toothbrush givers (usually dentists) might as well just turn out the lights next year, because kids remember and strategize. No one's knocking next year.
The Skill of Negotiation. From costume choice, to route details, and candy consumption, Halloween involves a great deal of parent-child negotiation. For children with siblings and friends who are willing to trade, the negotiation opportunities are endless especially if your tastes differ. A good negotiator with more controlled sugar habits can get a 4 to 1 ratio going for the most popular pieces. Of course negotiation doesn't end Halloween night. A few Ziplocs filled with treats can result in daily and lengthy parent-child negotiation sessions for upwards of a month. Think of the teaching opportunities! Fortunately for most children (and parents), these treats become a little less appealing over time.
The Importance of Fun Traditions. Remember wax lips? Plastic fangs? How about the time you dressed up as a baby and it snowed, so you had to wear a parka and no one knew what you were? Even bad Halloween images are fun to share. I'm still trying to figure out why we consented to bob for apples and why it took so long for that game to be declared a biohazard. Creating memories and traditions are important for families, and if these include laughter, then you've hit the jackpot. Maybe we should dress up and eat candy a little more often.
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