Halloween has always been my daughter's favorite holiday. But this year the only costume she wants -- the one she is begging and pleading for -- is a She Devil. It has a short short skirt, red fishnet stockings and knee high boots. All of her friends are wearing similar costumes. (Sexy nurse and so on.) She is just eight years old. What should we do?
Many parents are spooked by the options available for their little girls at Halloween. (Sorry about the pun. I had to do it.) Costumes are becoming increasingly sexualized and provocative, even for very young children.
Your difficulties are compounded by the fact that your daughter's friends seem to have permission to wear costumes you find inappropriate. But remember what parents used to say when a child complained that all the other kids got to watch Nights of Horror?
"If your friends jumped off the roof, would you jump, too?"
It's called Parenting.
Your daughter wants to dress up in something similar to her friends for Halloween. That is understandable. And... there are times when we have to trust our instincts and honor what feels best for our kids, even if it means losing the popularity contest with them. As hard as it is to see them unhappy, the only way children discover that they can live through disappointment is... to live through disappointment.
We live in a time when children are increasingly bombarded with sexualizing messages. Diane Levin is the co-author of So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood. In the LA Times she is quoted as saying, "Halloween costumes for 7- and 8-year-old girls and even younger have become downright titillating, and for tweens and teens, the vast majority of those sold in stores and on the Internet are unabashedly sexually alluring."
In a study at Knox College, psychologists showed two versions of paper dolls to girls aged six to nine. One doll was dressed in tight, sexy, revealing clothing and the other in a trendy but covered up, loose outfit. Researchers asked each girl to choose a) which doll she resembled, b) which doll looked the way she wanted to look and c) which girl was popular in school.
68 percent of the little girls said they wanted to look like the sexy doll and 72 percent said she was more popular than the non-sexy girl.
It is vital that parents help their children make sense of our increasingly-sexualized world. Use this situation to have an open conversation with your daughter. Start by letting her tell you what she likes about the She-Devil costume. Does she think her friends will admire or even envy her if she wears it? Is she afraid she'll be teased if she wears something less revealing? It may be that she's feeling a little on the fringe with her friends and was hoping that wearing something cool or edgy might solidify her social standing. Make it safe for her to share what is fueling her desire for that particular costume and resist the urge to interrupt as she offloads. Most importantly, don't shame her for wanting to dress in a sexy costume; acknowledge what she's feeling with care and kindness.
Then, move into a discussion about your values. Explain what it means to you to be a woman who is appreciated and admired for more than her looks or appearance. Share stories from your own life if relevant--times when you tried to win the approval of others at the expense of honoring yourself. Talk about how we discover our true friends--the ones who like and respect us for who we are, rather than needing us to be someone who makes them look good.
I have seen thousands of Halloween costumes over the years; like your daughter, it's one of my favorite holidays. Without a doubt, the best costumes have been the ones that were home-made, reflecting child creativity and whimsy.
Each day of our parenting lives brings opportunities to help our children develop their sense of value, worth, and resilience. When we cave in to their requests simply to avoid a tussle, they may come away thinking that we don't have faith in their ability to cope with disappointment. Use this situation to have a heart-to-heart conversation with your daughter and then help her invtent something unique that she'll be proud to wear.
And Happy Halloween!
Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected and Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids (An Eckhart Tolle Edition). She is a family therapist, parent coach and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.