Creative Child

The Importance of a Good Halloween Costume

by Rebecca Eanes

Frannie is an eight-year-old girl who is afraid of airplanes. When she has to fly, she holds her mother’s hand very tightly. She says airplanes make her feel “nervous.” But on one Halloween, Frannie dresses up like Amelia Earhart, an American aviation pioneer. Wearing her aviator costume, she says if she had to get on a plane wearing this, she’d “feel like a pro.” Wrapped in those clothes, the nervousness disappears.

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In a fascinating podcast titled “The Secret Emotional Life of Clothes,” Frannie’s story along with several others are told to make the case that our clothes affect us emotionally. The masks we wear not only make us look different, but they make us feel different. As the podcast host, Lulu Miller, says, “It’s like these costumes give them powers they didn’t have that morning.” This got me thinking, what are the implications of this and how can we, as parents, use this knowledge to help our kids conquer fears, rise to meet challenges, or just feel like a hero?

I dug a little deeper and found that there is not only a term for this, but a whole body of research. It’s called “embodied cognition.” Dr. Adam Galinsky, a professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University led a study on the effects of clothing on the cognitive processes. Dr. Galinsky says, “Clothing affects how other people perceive us as well as how we think about ourselves.”

In one experiment, 74 students were assigned to one of three options: wearing a doctor’s coat, wearing a painter’s coat, or seeing a doctor’s coat. Those who wore the doctor’s coat, which was identical to the painter’s coat, showed heightened attention. Yet, those who wore the painter’s coat or just saw the doctor’s coat didn’t. It wasn’t enough to just see a white coat. They had to wear it, and believe it belonged to a doctor to attain the heightened sharpness.

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“Clothes invade the body and brain, putting the wearer into a different psychological state”- Dr. Adam Galinsky

So, it seems that the Halloween costumes our kids wear is a little bit more than just a costume. For those couple of hours, they feel like someone else. Who are we allowing – and encouraging – them to feel like? A superhero? A monster? And could we use this holiday as an opportunity to help a child live a dream or feel empowered for a few hours?

What if we encouraged a child who loves to dance to dress up as Anna Pavlova or Carlos Acosta. What if a child who is afraid of the dark wears a Ghostbusters costume or one who dreams of becoming an Olympian wears a medal? On a night where the shy child can feel like a butterfly and the bullied child can feel like a strong superhero, maybe a little more attention and intention should go into this year’s Halloween costume picks. 

I’m not suggesting that a couple of hours of wearing zombie makeup will have any ill lasting effects. I certainly don’t still feel like the tiger I became for Halloween when I was 9. I am simply suggesting that maybe we can harness the knowledge that the masks we all wear have a bit of power, and we use that knowledge for good.

What will your child be for Halloween this year?

Rebecca Eanes, is the founder of and creator of Positive Parenting: Toddlers and Beyond. She is the bestselling author of 3 books. Her newest book,Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide, is more than a parenting book, it's a guide to human connection. She has also written The Newbie's Guide to Positive Parentingand co-authored the book, Positive Parenting in Action: The How-To Guide to Putting Positive Parenting Principles in Action in Early ChildhoodShe is the grateful mother to 2 boys.


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