Scary, But Not Too Scary: An 8-year-old's Halloween Shift

My 8-year-old daughter informed me the other day that she is tired of being something sweet for Halloween. Instead she wants to be scary.

But not too scary.

When she told me this, I looked at her, trying to keep my face neutral or even encouraging. But inside I felt that something was slipping away from me.

This child is the sweeter of my two kids. This is the one who thinks that it’s her job to cheer me up when I get angry or depressed. She delights me with pictures of unicorns and rainbows when I am sad, or when she senses a rift between her brother and me. This is the child who still watches movies and TV shows that are rated G. Her pretend play is imaginative and rich with magical friends and role-playing: She pretends to be a bird, a horse, a unicorn. This is the kid who wakes me up almost every night with nightmares and anxieties, hates to be away from me for even an hour and who often cries at bedtime if I’m not there to tuck her in.

I tried to help her figure out what scary thing she wants to be. I asked her more questions. She told me she wanted to be something scary because "What’s Halloween without somebody shivering?” but she couldn't quite describe what she was after. A ghost, maybe, but no mummies, witches, zombies, or other terrifying monsters that could inhabit nightmares.

Navigating these distinctions is tricky. Her past Halloween costumes have included a unicorned Pegasus, a sparkly pink princess, a butterfly with a tiara and a red-tailed hawk with a floppy felt bill and “real” tail feathers and wings. How do I help her make the jump to something edgier?

I’m also trying to understand myself. Why does this declaration of wanting not to be sweet this year make me so sad? My head knows that my daughter is growing up, but my heart wants a couple more years of innocence before I hand her over to teenage angst. I know I’m thinking too far into the future, picturing her dressed all in black, going through a Goth or punk phase, or another phase far removed from the Happy Unicorn Land of her present. Her older brother is firmly entrenched in tween-land, and I’m still coming to grips with the changes that entails.

I understand that she might be wanting to expand her repertoire of imaginative play, to explore the margins of her developing personality. But I’m not ready to give up her snuggles, butterfly kisses or toothy dimpled smiles.

So tonight I will go on Pinterest after the kids are in bed. I’ll look up costume ideas, try to figure out what she wants and gather options to present to her for her approval. We’ll collaborate on how to make the costume ourselves on the cheap. I’ll do my best to support her as she tries on a different persona. Her pink-and-purple unicorn boots will peek out from underneath whichever scary costume she chooses.

And I’ll do my best to soak her in, while letting her grow away from me a little bit more.

Jennifer Johnson is a homeschooling mama who dreads Halloween every year, but she does her best to support her kids and their creative pursuits. She has hope that maybe next year her daughter will go back to being a cowgirl or bald eagle again. She blogs about her family’s adventures at

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