Cross Country Checkup

Why Halloween has some kids feeling a 'temporary rise to power'

For kids, Halloween is more than just a chance to score some free candy and dress up as a superhero — it's a chance to feel like more of an adult, says psychological anthropologist Cindy Dell Clark.

The spooky holiday can be a way for kids to explore their identity, says expert

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, Halloween will look different this year — and in some regions, that means no trick-or-treating. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

For kids, Halloween is more than just a chance to score some free candy and dress up as a superhero.

"Halloween is like a temporary rise to power," said Cindy Dell Clark, a psychological anthropologist at Rutgers University in Camden, N.J., who has studied the haunted holiday's symbolism.

"Not only do they get to show off their adult-like costumes, but they get to demand candy, that thing which is usually forbidden." 

They also get the opportunity to step into the community and talk to strangers — something kids are usually trained to avoid.

But this year, Oct. 31 will look different for many children across Canada. 

As cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in parts of the country, public health officials in Ontario and New Brunswick are advising parents in certain areas with high case counts to avoid trick-or-treating, and instead plan for family activities at home. 

Parents should make an extra fuss over their children's costumes this year, says one expert, to help children build special memories during the pandemic. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

"Listening to public health officials means that my family will not be going trick-or-treating this year," said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday. The annual tradition has been discouraged in Ottawa, along with three other regions of Ontario, including Toronto.

"We have to reduce community transmission, and unfortunately, all of us are having to make sacrifices of different types, particularly kids in really difficult situations," Trudeau said.

The pandemic has been hard on children, who find themselves separated from their friends because of online learning or physical distancing recommendations. Clark says that the "rare opportunity" that Halloween presents can offer young ones the chance to escape from their daily routines. 

"It allows you to go beyond where you are every day, and to let your mind have a temporary vacation as you take on the role that you make-believe about," said Clark.

'Make a big fuss'

Halloween make-believe also allows children to explore their creativity and identity in a safe, non-judgmental way, according to New York-based clinical psychologist Dr. Asa Don Brown.

"It can really be significant, from a psychological standpoint, [in] providing a little insight into who we are," he explained.

Brown said there are other emotional benefits as well.

"There's also a bit of empathy that takes place in this. Dressing up and pretending to be someone else helps us to take a look at another person from a different perspective — and perhaps more empathetic perspective."

Brown says that most children will not be negatively impacted if Halloween looks different this year, but those who struggle with change or are facing difficult domestic situations could find it troubling.

"They may find it a bit more challenging to cope and manage their feelings around missing this holiday, just as though if they were to miss Christmas or some other significant holiday," he said.

WATCH: Dr. Theresa Tam on alternative Halloween ideas

Dr Tam says a safe Halloween can happen this year

2 years ago
Duration 1:30
Chief Public Health Officer Dr Theresa Tam offered guidance today to parents on how to have a safe Halloween.

Still, Brown believes that families should find new ways to celebrate the holiday this year, offering an Easter-inspired candy scavenger hunt as one option.

Clark suggests that parents go out of their way to make children feel special, even if they won't be able to show off their unique look around the neighbourhood.

"If adults still get a chance to make a big fuss over children's costumes, that will still mean a great deal to children," she said. 

"What parents want to give children are special memories, and I think it's still possible to do that."

Written by Jason Vermes. Produced by Kirthana Sasitharan.

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