Halloween For The Older Kids
Remember the days when your little princess wanted to dress like a princess for Halloween, and the boys were football players, dinosaurs and robots? Now they're not so little anymore, but even preteens and teens love the excitement and fun of Halloween. In my neighborhood, it's not unusual for boys taller than me to huskily ask me for a "trick-or-treat" while holding out an already stuffed pillowcase. Some neighbors are critical, but I don't mind. Let them have fun while they can. In fact, I always give them extra candy; I figure they'll burn it off.
Parenting expert Tom McMahon agrees. McMahon, founder of Kid Tips and author of Teen Tips – A Practical Survival Guide for Parents with Kids 11-19 (Pocket; rev. update edition, 2003), says according to his daughters, ages 17 and 20, Halloween is all about the candy and hanging out with friends.
"Only Halloween can transform a quiet, mid-week, mostly homework kind of night into a party atmosphere usually reserved for weekends," he says. "My daughters and their friends know how to work the streets for candy, often coming home after 10 p.m. with a full pillowcase. Most teachers don't expect much from their sugar-filled students the day after Halloween. And don't forget the costumes. The drama students lead the pack on this subject."
By the time they're about 12 or so, most older kids are done with the "kid" costumes and want things that are either funny or reflect pop culture. This can make it more difficult to come up with acceptable costume ideas, as I've discovered with my three teens. Fortunately, there's the Internet. Last year I hit on the site Costume Idea Zone and found dozens of simple, inexpensive ideas. The one we chose, which involved dressing my 12-year-old as the Subway spokesman "Jared" cost only about $15.00 (which included lunch for two at Subway and a pair of 52" waist pants from the thrift store) and won him first prize at a Halloween party.
Kate Regan, owner of the Costume Idea Zone, says they started as a one-page site in 1997 with 12 costume ideas and have grown so much in popularity that they now offer more than 2,000. There are also a lot of good homemade costume ideas at Robin's FYI. These two sites don't hold the monopoly on Halloween ideas; there are probably a zillion more sites to explore. Creative kids and their parents can also get great ideas from walking around Halloween superstores that crop up about mid-September.
Some costume ideas are as simple as writing on a tee shirt. How about brown pants and a yellow shirt that says "Vote for Pedro." Or for the boyfriend/girlfriend, how about matching backward baseball caps, jeans, a little fake bling and a couple of white tees, one that says "Mr. Spears" and one "Mrs. Federline." These days it's easy to mine pop culture for a cute, fast Halloween costume.
Making Holiday Connections
As the popularity and commercial aspects of Halloween have grown in recent years, so has the backlash against the growth. After all, say the naysayers, it's only Halloween. Denise Witmer, author of The Everything Parent's Guide to Raising a Successful Child: All You Need to Encourage Your Child to Excel at Home and School (Adams Media Corporation, 2004) and the About.com guide for the Parenting of Adolescents site, says it's great that Halloween has expanded to include grownups and older kids, because it's a holiday that offers some unique opportunities for parents and kids to have fun together.
"As they enter puberty, kids morph physically and [psychologically] into these different, sometimes difficult people, and parents think they've changed," Witmer says. "They have on one level, but they also like to have fun. Doing some fun things together on Halloween shows them how they can still have fun at the level of young adults and how they don't have to leave that enjoyment behind with their childhood."
Witmer says creating costumes, planning decorations and making funky Halloween-themed foods can be a terrific bonding experience for older children and their parents. She likes to make a Halloween-themed dinner such as eyeballs and worms (spaghetti and meatballs). Kids who may not generally like to help in the kitchen usually get a kick out of helping with something special, such as Halloween cupcakes or other unusual desserts.
Also, this connection isn't just for one night. It can go on for several weeks as preparations go forward. Witmer suggests getting the children involved in the decorating of the house and yard. Ask them what they'd like to do/eat/be this year, but start it out with concrete resources, such as something you've found on the Internet. Ask your child if they think that's a good idea (whether it is an idea for decorating or a costume) or whether they'd like to help you look at some other ideas. Older kids will feel important in the life of the household if they're involved in the decisions, even if it's just whether to put up a giant spider or turn the lawn into a graveyard.
Another important point Witmer makes is that Halloween is a great time to get to know your older child's friends – or to get to know them better – and his friends' parents. She suggests perhaps a bonfire or a haunted house or walk created by the kids that the parents are all invited to attend.
"I've noticed my teenagers tend to talk to me more about their friends that I know," Witmer says. "Also, knowing their friends' parents better helps you stay connected with the people your child hangs out with, and that's important."
So relax and find your inner child this Halloween, while bonding with the outer child.