Halloween: Trick or Tantrum?

This year, I vowed not to do things last minute. In late September, I sat my 2-year old daughter down and asked her to choose, “do you want to be Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz or a Cupcake?” Not only were cupcakes and Wizard of Oz, two of her favorite things (at least, at this time) the costumes were also under $20 on Amazon. “Wizard of Oz,” she said, without hesitation.

October quickly passed but my husband and I did not forget to take every opportunity to build up the excitement of her being Dorothy for Halloween. Things were going smoothly, until the day of the Halloween parade at our children’s daycare and the day my daughter was to wear her costume to school. That morning, we went through our typical routine. A month prior, our morning routine had become a power struggle followed by tears and tantrums. During my Positive Discipline (PD) training, I actually presented this scenario to my colleagues and received a ton of amazing ideas.

First, we “upped the ante” with giving her choices and essentially made everything a choice! Do you want to get changed upstairs or downstairs? Do you want to eat your breakfast in the kitchen or in the living room? Do you want cream or milk in your coffee? It was getting ridiculous but it was working. At the same time, what really decreased our frequent tantrums was the use of the visual morning schedule. Although, some days she takes it down and simply plays with it, she seems to respond well to the visual cues because now she knows what comes next. PD actually recommends creating the board with your child but whose got time for that really? I found a great one off Amazon by Monkey Chops. Once, I received it, my daughter and I arranged it together.

Unfortunately, though, on this particular day, my daughter was not willing to put on her costume. Maybe, if I had a magnet with a picture of Dorothy to include in her daily schedule, she would have agreed to wear it but this morning it just was not happening. I was running late and she was not negotiating. I dropped her and her brother off and wished her teachers good luck. That afternoon, my husband and I ventured over to daycare to watch the parade. We saw our son first, dressed in a cute little Lion costume but completely missed the photo opportunity because he looked away as soon as I took the picture.

My daughter’s class was next. I held my breath, waiting for her to come out. And there she was wearing her adorable Dorothy costume, being carried by the owner of the daycare – her face covered in tears and too scared to face all the adults staring at her. Despite the tears, I was considering it a victory as she was actually wearing her costume.

The party turned out great. My daughter stuffed her face with cupcakes, giggled with her friends, and loved having her whole family at her school. My son on the other hand, was not enjoying himself and later got his first round of pink-eye medicine. Somehow, we survived the weekend with only one child needing to see the doctor and Trick or Treat was here.

Halloween was like any other day. My kids went to daycare and my husband and I went to work (yes, I work full-time, this is just a side gig). Pick-up was crazy. We raced back home in an attempt to get them to eat something nutritious before we met up with our neighbors and friends. And, just as the morning of the daycare parade had went, my daughter was even more certain that she was not putting on the costume. I had a moment of thinking, “okay, I am just going to have to wrestle her down and put on the costume.” Instead, I took a deep breath and said, “okay, you do not need to wear your costume if you don’t want to.” And, she didn’t.

Trick or Treat ended up being a lot of fun. My daughter loved every minute of it. She laughed with her friends in the wagon, ran to every door to get her candy, and even said thank you. However, despite all the smiles and giggles, the next day I could not help but feel disappointed and defeated that my child did not wear her costume. The following day, I was talking to a coworker who shared that she had a similar experience when her daughter was about the same age but she forced her to wear the costume. She shared that her daughter cried the entire time they were trick or treating. I realized then, I had made the right decision.

Our courageous little lion

Later that day, my husband called to report how the evening was going. The first thing he says is, “Lisa, it worked?” He shared that when he picked the kids up from daycare, he told my daughter she could choose one piece of candy. Naturally, because she is our daughter, she asked for more once she devoured it. My husband shared that when he said no, she had a complete meltdown. In response to her meltdown, my husband then started to escalate, telling her no, which naturally only made her cry and scream louder. He shared that he then had a thought, “what would Lisa do?” and he knelt to her level, spoke to her quietly and calmly and said, “Emery, I know you want more candy because candy tastes really good and daddy will let you have another piece tomorrow. Right now, you can chose a healthy snack. Do you want a healthy snack?” He said it was like someone turned on the lights – she calmed down and said, “yes, healthy snack.” I’m not sure what made me more proud – the fact that my husband actually was starting to use the PD approach or my daughter’s response.

At any rate, I learned a lot from this Halloween. Ironically, it was the same lesson I walked away with from the Positive Discipline trainer training, which was, “focus on the process and not the outcome.” As parents, I believe we easily get sucked in to focusing on the outcome rather than what really matters. Lynn Lott, Co-Author of the Positive Discipline curriculum writes about the “Mischief Shuffle.” She describes this “dance” as things that get in the way of long-term parenting goals, which leads to control or permissive parenting approaches. When we get focused on the outcome, behaviors may only change in the short-term but long-term the misbehavior may continue to repeat itself. And, the child-parent relationship is likely to suffer.

So, my daughter did not wear her Dorothy costume for Halloween. Of course, if you ask her what she was for Halloween, she will surely tell you she was the "Wizard of Oz." But, we made amazing memories, learned to power through the power struggles, and set limits when it mattered. And, I had an excuse for being able to wear a cape.

My superheroes. Of note, the 2 year old refused to wear her shirt (shocking) and refused to get in the photo.

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