Halloween is one of those special nights in a child’s calendar. Where nearly every neighbour, except, of course, the ones who turn off the lights and sit in darkness, have an Everest of sweets and all you have to do to procure a fist full is wear something scary, call in and utter those magic words; ‘trick or treat’.
I never particularly cared for Halloween until I had children of my own.
Now I see the magic of it all. In fact, if I think about it, I had probably lost some of the magic I had as a child until I had children myself and they brought me back into contact with the lost magic of my childhood. That is the great thing about having children. They allow you to access parts of your childhood you had forgotten about.
And for me, Halloween had become lost in the serious world of the adult. A world where play and imagination hold little currency and are stifled by regularity and responsibility, but it doesn’t have to be like that.
There is room for the imagination in the adult world.
Watching the formation of a person has been the greatest privilege in my life and being a part of creating excitement in their minds has always brought me such joy.
The unbridled happiness in the weeks leading up to 31st with all the talk of costumes, fancy dress in schools and carving pumpkins, I find myself getting excited now too.
As a psychotherapist I can see the value in it all for a child’s development.
The planning, dressing up, knocking on their neighbours door and the positive feedback they receive for their costumes, they always return home, bounty in hand with a smile as wide as 5th Avenue.
At the end of the evening they are already thinking about next year’s costumes. Of course, as they get older the costumes become more sophisticated and harder to make.
Halloween allows a child to delve into their imagination unfettered by taboo. A child’s imagination is such an endless playground. Everything is possible and without horizons.
We must, as parents, promote the development of it. For a healthy imagination can help children to problem solve and see adversity before it arrives. I have always been struck by the complexity of my children’s play. And how, in their role-play, I can hear my wife and myself. When aspects of our adult lives fall short, what do we do?
Generally we may come to think, how did that happen? And we start to imagine all of the things we could have put into play to prevent the negative outcome. As one Harvard professor put it, ‘the imagination allows us to engage in thinking about alternatives in their prosaic form’.
In systemic family psychotherapy there is a revolutionary way of thinking and working with problems known as, ‘The Fifth Province’.
This is a mythical province where everything is possible. In this state of consciousness there are no boundaries and no preconceptions, our imagination has set us free from the rigidity of accepted norms, so the client is free to explore their problem in a new way.
Much like the artist in front of the canvas, anything is possible once that artist’s imagination is free from the prison of historical context or expectations. So the imagination is an important tool for our children to develop.
When I am working with adolescents I often utilise an abstract metaphor to help them visualise whatever it is they are dealing with. It is in this world of the abstract that often allows clients to look at their problem through a different lens uninhibited by conformity.
When my daughter was four she adored a programme called ‘Mia & Me’. In this programme a teenage girl travels to a magical world known as Centopia where she transforms into a magical winged elven girl and helps her unicorn friends to fight the evil queen Panthea.
My daughter was convinced that whenever there was a full moon she would travel to Centopia and help Mia defeat Panthea.
I clearly remember ordering online a water glare, a device Mia has to defeat the Queen, and waiting until my daughter fell asleep to fit it to her arm. No easy feat, I can tell you. Of course, the next morning I was awoken early by screaming down stairs.
‘Dad, I went to Centopia last night, I told you I was magic, look I have a water glare’. She would sit on the edge of my bed describing in full vivid detail her experience in Centopia and all that she had seen. She even promised to bring her little sister back a unicorn, but I couldn’t seem to find that on Amazon.
And now that she is nine years old, and she has outgrown the magical world of Centopia, whenever there is a full moon she looks at me and says with a wink ‘Look out Panthea, here I come’.
The world of a child’s imagination is the true playground of possibility.
Halloween allows our children to access that playground in all its gory glory. Enjoy.