Before you ruin your kid’s Halloween, I’d like to tell you a fairy tale that you have never heard before…
Once upon a time, a long time ago, in a land not so far away… lived a little girl named Paige and her horse, Whammy Sox, who was as pretty as a shiny, new penny. Paige, terribly shy and often the subject of ridicule at school, dreamed of being a princess with long, flowing hair. Little Paige dreamed of becoming exactly like the beautiful, wide-eyed and fierce-spirited, Arabian princess Jasmine from Disney’s movie, Aladdin. She longed for her horse to whisk her off to exotic places, as if an ornate flying carpet soaring across the moonlit sky. Luxuriously clothed, self-confident and pretty, the best friend of a tiger named Rajah; Jasmine was everything that Paige was not, but who Paige wished she could be.
One summer evening, at her local horse show benefiting charity, Paige’s wish came true during the annual horse-and-rider costume contest!
Whammy Sox, cloaked in silky magenta, tasseled in white, trotted briskly across the dirt and into the show arena. Pretty as a penny, she floated! She soared! Paige sat high on her four-legged, flying carpet, clothed from head to toe in Princess Jasmine’s signature look: two-pieced, harem attire in teal chiffon. She was pretty. She was confident. She was Jasmine! Paige and Whammy Sox – I mean, Jasmine and her flying carpet – glided weightlessly around the arena, prancing and waving to the admiring crowd.
The moment was magical! The award, a prize of 1st place!
The crowd cheered! Roses cascaded to the show ring floor, blanketing it in ruby red as the princess and her pony exited the arena. It was then, in that magical moment, that an onlooker noticed that Paige was just a little, white girl who had culturally appropriated the physique and persona of an Arabian princess. An angry mob of pitchfork waving social justice warriors chased Paige and her pony out of the event and into a state of shameful seclusion, never again to soar freely across the moonlit sky of imagination.
Okay, I just made the entire last paragraph up.
Fun is verboten
This year, as Halloween comes back ’round, the costume police and imagination crushers have risen once again from their murky tombs. Grim reapers, they seek to turn the fairy tale above into a reality of today. Monsters of a cultural abyss, they feed themselves, gorging on other people’s fun. Breath withheld in anticipation, they sit perched on barren branches high above. They watch and they wait. They wait and they watch, keen to any hint of Halloween faux pas.
The preferred weapon for the destruction of fantasy and fun, ghoulishly employed in progressive fashion each year by the ghosts of Halloweens past, is the narrowing of parameters on our idea of fun. Another favorite tool of the crypt keepers is the attachment of certain conditions upon which fun may be had. For example, they may say, “If your kid wants to dress as a tv character that is not of the same race as your kid, you must accompany the costume with a history lesson on oppression or a lecture on cultural appropriation.”
Pretend is good, progressives are bad
Well, this year, I am here to lock the monsters back in their graves with a bit of professional expertise… a Halloween haunt’s dreaded kryptonite.
Dressing up is what America’s Halloweens have long been about. Halloween offers children the chance to be someone, something other than themselves. It is a night of make-believe! Professionally speaking, this is referred to as “pretend play.” It can also be called “role play” or “dramatic play.”
Pretend play is a vital activity for developing humans, especially young children. Attentive caring parents naturally wish to provide their children opportunities for healthy development. Below is a brief list of developmental benefits of pretend play. (Yes! Science!)
- In addition to cognitive benefits such as an increase in language usage (including, but not limited to the increased use of subjunctives, future tenses, and adjectives), pretend play leads to the development of the very “important concept of ‘theory of mind,’ an awareness that one’s thoughts may differ from those of other persons and that there are a variety of perspectives of which each of us is capable” (Jenkins & Astington, 2000; Leslie, 1987; Singer & Singer, 1990; Singer & Singer, 2005).
- Pretend play also “allows the expression of both positive and negative feeling, and the modulation of affect, the ability to integrate emotion with cognition” (Jent, Niec, & Baker, 2011; Sejs, & Russ, 1999; Slade and Wolf, 1999).
- Pretend play games are also “the forerunners of the important capacity for forms of self-regulation including reduced aggression, delay of gratification, civility, and empathy” (Berk, Mann, & Ogan, 2006; Hirsh-Pasek, Golinkoff, Berk, & Singer, 2009).
- Longitudinal studied have shown that pretend play enhances cognitive flexibility and increases creativity (Russ, 2005; Singer & Singer, 2005).
Takeaway: let them play!
It is important for the adults in the room to remember that Halloween is not just a night for fun. It is also an important opportunity for unfettered pretend play, for healthy development. Imposing adult ideations of societal power plays, oppression, and appropriation only serves to undermine the imagination and to turn us all into neurotic, unholy creatures of control and paranoid limitation. This year, feel confident in your knowledge gained from above. Don’t ruin your kid’s Halloween. Slap on a set of vampire teeth and give your fairy tale a happy ending. Go out and have unfettered fun!