It’s the evening of Halloween and you’re helping your preschooler get their costume ready for trick-or-treating. They’ve been begging to be a tiger for the past couple months. Perhaps you’ve spent months meticulously hand-sewing a costume, braved the warehouse store madness to snag one, or maybe you grabbed a hand-me-down from your sister’s kid. Regardless, you made it happen - and in your own humble opinion - your kid looks adorrrrrrable.
But… not all is as it seems… as the night draws near, your preschooler gets more and more restless… and in the final hour… as the sun drops behind the hills… the unimaginable happens…“MOM!… I don’t want to be a tiger anymore… I want to be Spiderman - like my friend from school!”
‘NOOOooooo!’ you scream silently in your head. Your mind races, as you know there is no time, (nor zero desire), to find another costume this late in the game - but you also know this little human has the potential to derail the whole night with this last minute costume regret. Why do kids do this, and how do we cope? Read on to find out…
WHY DOES COSTUME REGRET HAPPEN?
The first, most simple answer is that children are humans, and humans tend to change their minds about things. We have emotions and thoughts that are fluid and changing. No emotional state lasts forever - they ebb and flow. Changing our minds is a reflection of these states. For example, have you ever planned a meal, and then in the last moment before going to make it you switch it up and make something else that sounds better? Adults change their minds all the time about things - the difference is that adults tend to have a better idea of the consequences of their actions. Changing dinner plans may have minimal repercussions, whereas other choices like changing your mind about the house you just moved into can have bigger consequences. Most adults understand how these decisions play out. Knowing the consequences to your decisions takes forethought, planning, and life experience - these are things that children haven’t acquired yet. So when your child changes their mind about a costume, to them it may seem simple - costumes just appear out of nowhere, right? Easy-peasy! Our children don’t know all the work that parents put into making their dreams come true. Although we may wish they would understand how much effort we are putting in already, they really won’t fully understand until they are adults (or have their own children!)
WHAT IS UNDERNEATH THE CHANGE OF HEART?
To help untangle costume regret, it can be helpful to understand why your child wants to change costumes, to help them work through their feelings to a solution. One way to figure out why your child wants to change costumes is to try to identify the feeling underneath the request. Are they worried about their own costume because they are comparing themselves to others? Are they simply excited about the next new costume they just learned about? Are they physically uncomfortable in the costume they chose? Children may have some valid reasons for wanting to change. This does not mean you have to give in and make the change happen - but it may help you explore how to problem-solve solutions.
In our recent book, The Costume Comeback at the Monster Ball, the main character, Sloth, wants to change his costume at the last moment. In his situation, Sloth's costume excitement turns to regret once he sees what his friends are wearing. He begins to feel self-conscious and worries his costume is too boring -- he wants to stand out like everyone else! Sloth really wanted to fit in. The desire to fit in can occur at a young age - even preschoolers may struggle with accepting and celebrating differences. Whatever the reason for the desire to change, identifying the underlying feeling and issue can help you get one step closer to moving through the challenge.
SO… WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT IT?
In three easy steps, this is what we recommend: empathize, set boundaries and problem solve.
Step 1: Empathize
Going back to the reason underneath the need for change, offer empathy. Empathy helps children understand their own feelings better and feel seen and heard. Feeling seen and heard helps humans regulate their big emotions. Try saying something like:
“I hear you! You really want to be Spiderman instead of a tiger. That’s a really cool spiderman costume you see your friend wearing.”
“I get it, you thought this mask would be comfortable but it’s not quite what you were hoping for. You are wanting something different now.”
Step 2: Set Boundaries
Now, if you want to go out and get your child a new costume… all the power to you. But if you are like us and there is no way you’re going to do that, there are some boundaries that will need to be set. Letting your child know what is an option and what isn’t allows them to have their feelings, and allows the parent to continue to be a clear and compassionate leader. After empathizing (see Step 1) let them know the deal. Some children benefit from understanding a bit more about the why behind your decision. Try saying something like:
“It’s too late today, getting a new costume is not a choice right now.”
“We already have one costume, and in our family we only get one costume each Halloween.”
Step 3: Problem Solve
Now that you’ve offered empathy and set a boundary, you can help partner with your child to determine the next steps. You will be a vital part of this process, because you know what options are going to work best for your family. For instance, could your child choose not to go trick-or-treating? Could they determine they want to go without a costume? Could they decide to wear something else they have at home? You can choose potential solutions that fit your family’s values and options. Try to be open minded about the choices. Many times it’s us adults that are stuck in our narrow ideas of how things should be. Do you want your child to wear their costume because they look cute in it? Do you not want to waste the money spent on the costume? How can you acknowledge your own feelings in order to be there for your child in a way that is still in alignment with your family values? Although it may not be ideal, letting your child be part of the problem solving can benefit them down the road when they are older. Empowering children to make their own choices helps them build self-confidence, self-esteem and self-efficacy. They can gain independence and be better at solving problems in the future. Depending on the age of your child, you may be able to offer them choice, or engage in creative problem solving. You may try saying something like:
“What do you think we should do about this challenge?” (best for older children who already have some problem-solving skills)
“You can either wear this costume we already have, pick another costume we already have, or you can trick-or-treat without a costume this year. What do you think would be best?” (better for younger children or children who are still learning to problem solve)
If we put these steps all together it sounds something like this:
“I hear you, you really want to be Spiderman now. Unfortunately it’s too late to get another costume. You can choose to wear this one trick-or-treating, pick another costume we already have, or you can go in your regular clothes. What sounds best to you? “
Now, we cannot promise that there will be no tears after this. Your child may still have big feelings about not getting to change costumes. It can be helpful as a parent to remember that it’s okay - even good- for your child to express their big feelings. Feeling disappointment and moving through it builds resiliency and helps children understand the outcomes of their choices. Eventually kids will understand that costumes cannot be easily changed at the last minute, and there may be a point of no return (at least there is in our homes for our own sanity!) If you show up for your children with empathy and engage them in problem solving, these costume regret moments can be moments of learning. Even so, we get it. Costume regret is scary-real and can cause real challenges to move through! We wish you all the best this Halloween… Mwahaha…
If you want to find more resources to help your child cope with big feelings this Halloween, check out our Halloween Fright Collection.