Age of Awareness
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Age of Awareness

I’m Worried about Halloween: Help Kids Focus on Treats not Tricks

Violence Abounds

The rise in violence in and outside of schools is evident. Teachers are reporting significant classroom management issues. Airline flight attendants are reporting many too many incidents of unruly patrons. There are a plethora of reports of shootings (not counting those on a movie set). There are road rage incidents.

Add to all this the Tik Tok challenges that encourage students to misbehave in school and video the incident. “Slap your teacher” is one such challenge that comes to mind. Then there is the Squid Games on Netflix, which uses children’s games and punishes losers with violent death. Sadly, children are replicating this on playgrounds, hitting the loser of games. Horribly bad for self-esteem for many.

Now is not the place to expound on the reasons for all of the violence. The point here is to note its all too present presence. And, that brings me to Halloween.

Halloween This Year

Halloween worries me every year — lots of people get scared unnecessarily. I have written about it before. But, I am very concerned this year. Students are dysregulated, and to make matters worse, the teachers are becoming increasingly stressed, with far too many good teachers leaving that workforce.

Am I an alarmist? Perhaps but remember, I specialize in trauma and have seen so much of it in schools (students and educators). that I worry about a “holiday” with masks. I worry about a holiday where “tricks” can be mean, not just prank-like. I worry that this is a holiday that can serve as an excuse for discriminatory and racially insensitive costumes and outsized behavior can occur. Add some drugs or alcohol or online challenges to the mix and Halloween gets me spooked.

I sense trouble already with costumes. The Squid Games has its own store and many other outlets are selling costumes and masks that tie into this violent show. We have already seen an increase in mistreatment of Asians and I can imagine masks that make fun of Asian facial features. And, I can imagine scary masks that frighten children because they display blood or injuries and unnecessarily set off their autonomic nervous system. This not be the year for haunted houses and jumping into someone’s pathway from a darkened spot.

Why? We are experiencing so much untoward and unkindly behavior of late and we have the pandemic and the accompanying deaths and illnesses. Why exactly would we need more to scare us? Aren’t we all scared enough? Just reading about the “twindemic” this morning (pandemic and flu) is enough to frighten many of us.

Actually, if you want to be scared, all you have to do is read the newspaper daily or listen to the news. There’s no shortage of reporting of scary things — of all sorts and in all parts of the world. Children see the ills of the world online and they witness the lack of calm in their guardians (although far too many children have lost their primary and secondary caregivers).

Now What?

I want to encourage parents and educators to take a different approach to Halloween this year.

One: For starters, what if we focused on treats — not just for those who knock on doors but treats for those in need or who are housebound or who are sad or who have lost a loved one. And, helping give treats activates our empathy engines — our mirror neurons — and makes the giver and receiver feel better. Kids can drop off treat packages.

Two: How about talking about appropriateness in terms of costumes? Remember the child who dressed up last year as Hitler? Might we want to pay attention to how to dress up in ways that make people smile, not flee? Might we want masks that message positively not negatively? Goodness knows we already have enough issues with mask wearing. Consider the positive costume conversations we could have.

Three: There is no shortage of “good” or funny costumes, meant to generate good feelings and kindness. No, I am not suggesting we dress up as pious religious figures. But, what about animals?

Giraffe and pandas and cats make good costumes; so do unicorns. And, what about artistic masks that are hand painted? And what about costumes of angels or other positive creatures? What about costumes of athletes — football players and baseball players and the like? What about ballerinas? What about gymnasts? What about doctors and nurses and chefs? Did anyone see the wee toddler dressed as a candy corn that went viral? Now there’s a positive costume.

Four: And, can we please read stories and show movies that do not scare us half to death? We are already scared enough from reality. More “scare” isn’t a good thing at the present time. Try Lady Lucy’s Ghost Quest for a positive ghost story.

Five: In addition to offering candy to those who knock at our door this year, might we add some games to the giveaways? Stress balls? Pumpkins to color with crayons? Fidget toys (including those hot pop-it toys that work like bubble wrap but better)? How about finger puppets? How about rocks and paint to create a kindness garden or feeling garden as part of the holiday?

Upcoming Holidays

Now would be a good time to try some of these approaches. We have other holidays upcoming that will stress us. It is not too early to think about these holidays (Thanksgiving and Christmas or Kwanza or Chanukah and New Years).

And, let’s rethink Halloween ASAP. It is upon us.

The goal is not to eliminate the joy of holidays. It is to make them fun and safe and sending messages of treats not tricks. Try it. It might just be the medicine we need.

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Karen Gross

Author, Educator & Commentator; Former President, Southern Vermont College; Former Senior Policy Advisor, US Dept. of Education; Former Law Professor