Halloween; Spooky or Simply "Spirited"

Tips for Halloween, Ghosts, Goblins and Emotion Coaching:
Building the Relationship that Keeps Your Child Working with You

Whoppers, Milk Duds, Snickers and more tumble out of your child’s trick or treat bag.  He’s ecstatic.  It’s a candy stash for a year!  All you can think about are the cavities that are likely to develop and more immediately how you are going to keep him from devouring the entire pile without turning this “holiday” into one huge power struggle.   Emotion coaching can be your survival aid.
Often it’s assumed that emotion coaching is something you do only when your child is upset.  But emotion coaching is actually a relationship style. 

It’s a way of interacting every day, during both the good times and the more challenging ones.  So what does emotion coaching look like at Halloween?
An emotion coach takes time to plan for success.
That means setting aside a few minutes to predict what might be potential issues.  Let’s do a little brainstorming: 
  • Instead of thinking costumes are fun your child might freak out when he sees the strange characters showing up at your door.  
  • And then there is the candy.  What are you going to do with it?  Does your child get to eat it all?  Do you give it away?  Are you planning on snitching all the Whoppers – like I’d want to do?  
  • Halloween parties can be a blast, but what if they’re scheduled in the middle of nap time or long past bedtime, do you attend anyway? 
  • If your child is older she may push for independence, declaring that only “little kids” trick or treat with their parents. She wants to go with her friends without adult supervision.  Do you allow it?
  • You love trick or treating and having a child has now given you license to knock on doors once more.  You can’t wait to go out and sweep the entire neighborhood for goodies.  That’s when your sweet little guy whispers “I don’t want to trick or treat.  I just want to stay home and give out candy to the other kids.”       
  • Think about your child.  Knowing his/her personality what issues might arise during this holiday for him?  
Predicting the potential trouble spots gives you time to think about what skills and character traits you want to help your child develop through this experience.
When you know where you’re going it’s easy to put together a plan for success with your child.     
Let’s take a look: 
Afraid of costumes:    I’ll never forget one of the first open houses I planned at our early childhood family education center.  It included a visit from a local clown service.   At the time my daughter was only three years old. She took one look at that clown, burst into tears and adamantly refused to enter the center. Months afterward she continued to ask each time she visited, “Is he going to be there?”  Of course her brother would shout, “Yes” triggering a burst of tears.    
When a child is afraid it’s easy to discount her emotions or to try and talk her out of them.   
“There’s nothing to fear.”  “He won’t hurt you.”  “You’re okay. “ Or even a bit of shaming, “Don’t be a baby.”  
But as an emotion coach this is an opportunity to practice really listening to your child and describing not minimizing what’s frightening.

When she tells you that the big hat is scary you can simply concur, “He was wearing a very big hat.”   Or, if she doesn’t like his eyes, “Yes, his eyes were different.”  You’re not fueling the fear, nor are you playing it down, you are merely listening and seeking understanding.  It is impossible to talk your child out of a fear, but you can support her through the process of managing it, by staying with her, listening and respecting her experience.
Candy:  Lynn and I both love the candy.  It offers such great opportunities for emotion coaching.  

You might begin with a lesson in delayed gratification.

Making a plan ahead of time with your child that after he’s collected his goodies he can choose 10 pieces to keep.  Then stay out of it.  Allow him to make the choice to savor one a day or eat it all at once.  He’ll quickly learn that being impulsive can lead to a tummy ache and the misery of having to watch his sister who chose to ration hers, enjoy it day after day.   
You can also take this further for a lesson in establishing clear limits.
Once you’ve decided together BEFORE he goes out the door, how many pieces of candy he’ll be keeping, you can also determine what the consequences will be if he suddenly decides AFTER collecting the candy that he no longer agrees with the plan.  Is it up for negotiation?  Or, does complaining indicate a choice to lose all of the candy?  
The ultimate decisions you make are not as important as the process of working together and teaching your child that once something is agreed upon it is vital that both parties can be trusted to follow through.  Your child learns that you as an emotion coach can be trusted to do what you said you would do – even if it means all of the candy disappears this year!  (Remember this has to be clear ahead of time and seen as a follow through, not a surprise “punishment.”)  An emotion coach is not always “nice” but she is dependable and trustworthy, which is much more important for a child’s sense of security. 
Just for the fun of it the candy can also offer wonderful opportunities for counting, sorting by type, size and color, negotiating with siblings for favorites and if given away, caring for others.  
Going with friends without immediate adult supervision: 

She’s only ten years old but she’s preparing you for adolescence with this request.  
Before you scream, “No!” be an emotion coach, stay connected and recognize a super opportunity to practice problem solving.
Begin by seeking understanding.  What is important to her?   Breathe deeply, keep your cool, it’s true there are dangers out there and you’re going to get to address them in a minute, but first hear her out.  Once you can clarify that she wants an opportunity to demonstrate her independence and trustworthiness, you get to state your concerns.  Let her know, you have to know she’s safe.  That means staying with a group of at least five people, staying within a specified boundary, staying in communication and ending at a specified time.  What’s important to you may also depend on her previous experience. Children in New York take public transportation to school.  Their experience is going to be significantly different from that of a child who has never crossed a street alone.  
Once both of your interests are on the table the brainstorming begins and continues until you come up with a win/win solution, you both find acceptable.   If she’s unwilling to discuss it with you, she doesn’t get to go. At the same time you have to loosen the strings a bit, she needs practice with the “little issues” so she’s prepared for the future, when the experiences and concerns are much more complex.  (Like boy/girl sleep overs)  
Together you’ll be exploring trustworthiness, responsibility, problem solving and team work.
Don’t deny yourselves this opportunity by refusing to even discuss the matter.  You’ll be asking her to address your concerns.  Does she have five friends to go with?  Is she willing to communicate?  Will she remain within the designated area?   Will she honor the curfew?  If she decides she does not want to address your concerns, she has decided not to go, rather than you deciding that she can’t.  If your child is willing to meet your expectations you can feel comfortable letting her go.  Either way you stay connected because you made the decision together.  
You do not want to move into adolescence with a child who is feeling disconnected from you.  
The little guy who prefers to stay home to hand out the treats:
The emotion coach’s answer response is likely to vary depending on your values.  If you believe being able to knock on someone’s door is an essential life skill, then you may decide to coach your child through this. 
You’ll want to help him be successful by breaking down the process into easily accomplished steps. 
Perhaps instead of canvassing the entire neighborhood you simply agree that he’ll “trick and treat” at his best friend’s house, or grandma’s and then can return home to give out the candy.  
Or, you might simply say, “You know you’re just like your dad and I love him too.”  Both of you will be much happier greeting people at our door than traipsing through the neighborhood.  
Appreciating who has come to live with you is an important trait of emotion coaches.
Bedtime and Parties Scheduled During Sleep Time:  
Your reply is going to depend on the age of your child, their ability to “recover” when sleep deprived and what’s happening after the event.  Halloween is in the middle of the week this year which means school is in session the next day.   We won’t spend too much time on this one because we wrote an earlier blog on Making an Exception – check it out.   But once again the emotion coach realizes this is an opportunity to help her child understand her body’s needs, to be flexible and when there is a change in routine to “plan for success.”  
Happy Halloween!  Choose to connect!

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